Five things we learned from Ohio State men's basketball media day

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

Tuesday's media day marked the unofficial start to the 2021-22 Ohio State men’s basketball season.

Inside the men’s practice gym at Value City Arena, all 15 members of this year’s team assembled for a team photo. Eight players stood in the back row while, seated in the midpoint of the seven-man front row, fifth-year senior Kyle Young held a basketball. Then, they broke for interviews. And as they did, the Buckeyes added a fifth member to their 2022 recruiting class when four-star forward Brice Sensabaugh announced his commitment on social media.

The current roster, which features six graduates, three seniors and only two first-year freshmen, sat on risers spread across the practice gym. Two players were at each table with name cards that included their social media information while one, third-year forward E.J. Liddell, held court at his own table. Coach Chris Holtmann, initially slated to take part in the day, was absent to attend the funeral for Paul Patterson, his coach at Taylor University and a significant influence on his life.

With all that in mind, here are five things we learned Tuesday.

Seth Towns (31) forms an "O" with his arms while being filmed in the northwest rotunda during media day for the Ohio State men's basketball team at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.

1. Roles are still undefined

This might seem like common sense, but many of the answers you would seek from a state-of-the-team press conference are simply unknowable at this exact point on the calendar. Kyle Young, in particular, frequently referenced the fact that players don’t yet know what type of roles will be asked of them or even who the best shooter might actually be on this roster.

Answers to those types of questions won’t start to be unearthed until practice officially begins. Until this point, it’s been skill workouts, open gyms and limited actual team activities. So instead of talking at length about how Ohio State will figure out roles in a rebuilt backcourt featuring newcomers Jamari Wheeler, Cedric Russell and Malaki Branham, or how newcomer Joey Brunk will fit with returners Zed Key, Liddell and Young in the frontcourt, the focus instead was on what the players can control when camp starts.

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Boiled down to its essence, that would be the acceptance of whatever role might come for each player.

“A lot of us have a lot of experience,” Jimmy Sotos, a guard entering his fifth season, said. “We all know what it means to buy in and accept our roles and the culture that’s already been established here. We’re going to keep pushing each other to get better each and every day. That’s all we can really ask for right now.”

Kyle Young (25) and Eugene Brown III pose for a photo during media day for the Ohio State men's basketball team at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.

2. Kyle Young is ready for everything that comes with a full season

It was one of the most-asked questions of the afternoon for the fifth-year player: How is Young feeling physically? After dealing with lower-leg injuries during his sophomore and junior seasons as well as a pair of concussions during the final weeks of last season, Young’s status has remained a talking point for the majority of his Ohio State career.

Tuesday, though, he downplayed any concerns about his availability.

“I feel great,” Young said. “This offseason I’ve really worked on body maintenance, working on things I need to be working on. The end of last year was tough with those two concussions, but other than that, throughout the year my legs were doing great. I’m hoping to continue that and keep my body healthy.”

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The plan this season will look similar to last year, Young said, as the training staff and coaches will do what they can to limit his workload and keep him healthy. As he noted, it worked last season until he suffered a concussion in late February and another during the Big Ten tournament.

Young described them as freak accidents.

“You’ve got to lose yourself (in the game),” he said. “You’ve got to have that mentality that every time I’m the floor I’m still going to give 110% and trust my body, trust the workouts I’ve been in, trust my rehab. Once you do all that, it becomes easy to do what you do.”

Seth Towns (31) takes questions from reporters during media day for the Ohio State men's basketball team at Value City Arena in Columbus on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.

3. Seth Towns is on track for a December return

After missing his final two seasons at Harvard due to knee injuries, Columbus native Seth Towns transferred to Ohio State following the 2019-20 season and vowed that Buckeyes fans would see how much it means for him to play for his hometown school.

He was able to do that in stretches last season, and his sixth season of college basketball will likewise have a delayed start. Towns underwent a back surgery that he said was a “microdiscectomy,” which USCspine.com describes as “a very common, if not the most common, surgery performed by spine surgeons. The operation consists of removing a portion of the intervertebral disc, the herniated or protruding portion that is compressing the traversing spinal nerve root.”

He is expected to return to game action roughly around the same time he made his Ohio State debut last season. That came in the seventh game of the season, a win against UCLA in Cleveland as part of the CBSSports Classic on December 19. This year, the Buckeyes will play Kentucky in the same event but in Las Vegas on December 18. It will be their 11th game of the season.

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“It’s tough,” Towns said. “I could write a book about this (stuff), honestly. You’ve got to take it day by day. You can’t get too down because hope is still alive, hope is still there. Honestly, the chances are really good for me to have a good year.”

Jamari Wheeler (55), Zed Key (23) and Cedric Russell (2) display Key's trademark "finger guns" during media day for the Ohio State men's basketball team at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.

4. Zed Key is excited to play with E.J. Liddell

When Liddell opted to return for a third year after testing his NBA draft stock, he did so with the promise that he will almost exclusively play the power forward position for the Buckeyes. Doing so means he will most likely be on the court a great deal with second-year center Zed Key, one of four players listed at 6-8 on the roster.

The two didn’t share a lot of time on the court last season. For Ohio State to succeed this season, they will likely have to figure that out this season. Key said that’s going to happen.

“Me and him, it’s a problem,” Key said. “It’s a really big problem for other teams.”

Time will tell.

Jamari Wheeler (55) wears a basketball-themed gold necklace laughs while being interviewed during media day for the Ohio State men's basketball team at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.

5. That Oral Roberts loss is fading into the past

There’s no getting around the fact that Ohio State’s first-round loss as a No. 2 seed was one of the 10 biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history. The Buckeyes bowed out to Oral Roberts in overtime, a stunning end to a season that saw them battle to the title game of the Big Ten tournament and spend much of the year ranked nationally in the top 10.

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Of the 15 players on the roster, though, only six actually played in that game and one — guard Gene Brown III — totaled 20 seconds of playing time. So while the loss certainly lingers around the program to an extent, it’s not as pronounced on the roster as you might think. Holtmann has talked with those who were there about the lessons to take from it, stating that Ohio State has to own what happened, learn from it and move on.

That seems to be what’s happened, although Meechie Johnson, who did not appear in the game, said it still drives him.

“I feel it every day,” he said. “Every day in workouts I think about it. I never want to go through that again. I think about it and I learned a lot from it, not just from the loss but from being in the locker room. Guys crying after that game, it hurt. We use it as motivation.

“We don’t really talk about it much. We know we’ve got that chip on our shoulder. It’s going to really help us next season.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy