Ohio State assistant Tony Skinn to face former team Seton Hall

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Tony Skinn traveled more than 1,100 miles to find himself right back where he was.

Sunday morning, the newest Ohio State men’s basketball assistant coach arrived at Suncoast Credit Union Arena ready to help the Buckeyes practice for their first on-site game in the Fort Myers Tip-Off when they were told they couldn’t get in the gym yet. There was a team already on the court, and Seton Hall would have to finish before Ohio State would be allowed it.

Tony Skinn, center, started his coaching career at Louisiana Tech, where he was part of their team's 82-74 victory over Ohio State on Nov. 24, 2015.

The Pirates are the Buckeyes’ opponent Monday night. They are also the team that, until May, employed Skinn as an assistant coach. Now, in the fifth game of his first year at Ohio State, Skinn will be on the sideline against the team he helped coach for the last three seasons.

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On one hand, it’ll be a little awkward trying to beat a team he had helped assemble. On the other hand, Skinn’s personnel scouting duties came a little easier this time.

“It’s definitely surreal,” Skinn said Sunday afternoon. “They’ve been on the schedule for weeks and months, but I’ve tried to stay in the present since I’ve gotten the job and I haven’t really thought too far ahead. Obviously those are my guys. That’s family when it’s all said and done.”

Seeing the Pirates the day before the game presented a shock to the system, Skinn said, but a welcome one akin to ripping a band-aid off. His familiarity with the program helped while scouting their personnel, but there are still changes to be found in a team this early in the season. Seton Hall moved to 3-0 with a win at No. 4 Michigan last Tuesday.

It’s not the first time he’s had a reunion with a former program. After leading George Mason to the 2006 Final Four, Skinn was in his third season as an assistant at Louisiana Tech when he helped the Bulldogs beat the Patriots, 77-64, while playing in the Cancun Challenge. Then during his first two years at Seton Hall, Skinn, a native of the Washington D.C. area, helped the Pirates sweep a home-and-home series with Maryland.

In moving from Louisiana Tech to Seton Hall and now Ohio State, Skinn has remained on good terms with his former coaches. Although Seton Hall coach Kevin Williard was not available for Sunday interviews, Skinn called him “my guy” and said he supported his decision to join the Buckeyes.

“He came from a good program,” Holtmann said. “Really pleased with Tony’s work, his recruiting, his attention to detail, his relationship building. All those things have been real positive.”

Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann knows what Skinn will experience. After leaving Butler for Ohio State, Holtmann found himself coaching against the Bulldogs only seven games into his Buckeye tenure while participating in the PK80 Invitational in Portland. Holtmann was able to nab only a few hours of sleep the night before the game after downing some NyQuil, and Ohio State would lose a 15-point lead in the final four minutes of regulation and take a one-point overtime loss in one of the most emotional games Holtmann has said he’s ever experienced.

This won’t be that for Skinn, who said if he’s up late Sunday night it will be because he’ll be preparing personnel reports for California and Florida, the teams Ohio State can play in Wednesday’s final game here.

“That’s probably the difference between being a head coach and an assistant coach,” Skinn said with a smile. “You don’t have that much pressure, man.”

There will still undoubtedly be some strange feelings when both teams are inside the arena and in full uniforms Monday evening, but the initial sting has at least worn off.

“It was good seeing them (Sunday), because that broke the ice a little bit,” Skinn said. “(Monday) it’s war time and that all goes out the window. It’s bittersweet, but I’m here now with Ohio State and we’ve got to take care of business.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy