Ohio State's Chris Holtmann talks IUPUI, Meechie Johnson and more on radio show

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

A busy stretch of games awaits the Ohio State men’s basketball team. Sunday, the Buckeyes fended off Penn State 61-56 at home. Tuesday, they will host IUPUI in a game to replace one of the two they lost during a 22-day COVID-19 pause. Saturday, it’s a home date with Nebraska that will tip at 2:15 p.m..

At 11-4 overall and 5-2 in the Big Ten, Ohio State dropped three spots to No. 19 in this week’s Associated Press top 25 poll released Monday afternoon. With all that on the calendar, head men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann hosted his weekly radio show. This week, Holtmann was able to participate in person after having to call in to last week’s show while still in quarantine after testing positive himself.

In this week’s edition of the show, Holtmann discussed altering practice plans on Martin Luther King Dr. Day, Meechie Johnson Jr.’s status, playing IUPUI and much more.

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In case you couldn’t listen, here are the highlights.

Buckeyes will have practice conversations about Martin Luther King Jr. Day

With just one day in between games, some of Monday’s time together will be spent having conversations about King.

“Certainly we’ve had a lot of conversations here in the last two years about social justice,” Holtmann said. “They don’t need a lecture from me. Really the conversations are what is most engaging, enlightening and in a lot of ways educational for all of us in that room. We’ll take some time to do that around practice today for sure.”

Holtmann said he speaks to his team each year about how his father’s heroes growing up were John F. Kennedy and King.

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“If your players think it’s just about you coaching them as athletes, one, that’s not the way I’d want to do it,” he said. “It’s a big part of it, we’re trying to help athletes become the best version of themselves athletically. We’re trying to have an impact on them as people first. We’ve got a lot to get done today, but there are more important matters. Having a holiday where we can talk about something like this presents another opportunity.”

IUPUI game scheduled to get Ohio State game reps

The Jaguars are ranked as the nation’s third-worst team according to KenPom.com, but Holtmann said the game is an alternative to a week’s worth of practice.

“We just wanted games for our guys,” he said. “We could certainly practice and that’s important, but we wanted game repetition for our guys. We had always intended if we could add another game we’d do that. We had to find a willing party. We did a lot of work in these last couple weeks to see if somebody would have interest. It’s as much as anything about game reps for all our guys. That’s why we chose to do it. I wouldn’t mind having a week of practice to continue to grow and get better, but our guys need game reps.”

It is unlikely that the Buckeyes will add any further games unless a Big Ten game is canceled.

“Given our schedule right now, this was really the only time we could do it,” he said. “We knew it was going to have to be a one-day prep. I don’t think it’s possible to be able to get another game in.”

Buckeyes are running some plays for Justin Ahrens

Senior captain Justin Ahrens has struggled to regain the form he’s shown for most of his career since returning from the COVID-19 pause. Holtmann said the Buckeyes have some actions they run specifically for him but that some teams are simply not leaving him defensively.

“We ran one (action) the second play of the game (against Penn State),” Holtmann said. “We had another one where they were glued to him and just committed to not leaving him and they switched out on him. I think the reality is we have run stuff for him and he’s actually been a little more accurate shooting the ball when we’re not running stuff for him. When he’s just playing off of other people, finding some in transition which I think he can do a better job of and we can get a better job of getting him those looks.

“There will be games where he doesn’t get quite the attention, and when he does he can knock several in and break through.”

Holtmann was also asked how he tries to coach players out of shooting slumps.

“Stay aggressive,” he said. “Trust your stroke. Trust the work you’ve put in. try to give them confidence. Take good shots, and stay aggressive. You’ll see the rewards of it. There’s so many ways to impact our game outside of just shooting. You try to challenge those guys, there’s a lot of other things you can do to impact the game.”

Meechie Johnson won’t play until he can practice

Tuesday will mark one week since second-year guard Meechie Johnson Jr. suffered a facial injury during practice that is expected to sideline him for at least two weeks. He did not accompany the team to Wisconsin but watched the Penn State game from the bench.

“He’s not cleared yet to do any type of exercise,” Holtmann said. “Once he can practice, if he can go through a full practice we’ll put him in the game. Right now he’s not cleared to do anything physically.”

The impact of losing him has been felt, Holtmann said, and he will look a little different when he returns.

“I think he’s making strides,” he said. “We obviously look forward to getting Meechie back. We miss his ability to pressure the ball, make shots, play make. He was in a pretty good rhythm and pretty good groove. He may look a little bit different with what they’re going to require him to wear, but I’m sure he’ll look forward to unveiling that.”

Ohio State, Dayton have discussed playing each other

Holtmann took a submitted question about trying to schedule a game with the Flyers, and it turns out they have had some talks – particularly last year during the pandemic.

“We actually had conversations last year during the pandemic about potentially playing a game,” he said. “Anthony (Grant) and I talked about it. Just wasn’t able to materialize unfortunately. At one point I was optimistic it would. Just didn’t work out. I think obviously they’re a tremendous program with an incredible fanbase following. We’ve played a number of teams in the state already from mid-majors or high-major teams and I’d like to continue that trend for sure.”

The Buckeyes are booked three years out for Thanksgiving exempt tournaments, Holtmann said. Maui is up next, but Holtmann also mentioned playing in the Bahamas soon as well. Ohio State was scheduled to play in the Battle 4 Atlantis last year but had to cancel due to the pandemic.

Harrison Hookfin converted to scholarship

Following the Penn State game, Holtmann told walk-on Harrison Hookfin inside the locker room that he was being put on full scholarship retroactive to the start of the year.

“He’s a good athlete,” Holtmann said. “He’s really improved his skill. He’s really, really worked with our strength coach to become the best version athletically of himself. He can handle his own in practice for sure. He’s a 6-5 kid who can throw his body around. He’s really bright. I believe med school’s going to be in his future. It’s a lot for him, though, because he’s a high-level student and also trying to do this as well as he could do it.”

Holtmann pointed to the impact made by former walk-ons Joey Lane and Danny Hummer in their roles with the team as well.

“Special people,” Holtmann said. “We love those guys. Danny was a tremendous asset for us. When I got here, we were looking for some bodies because of the roster defections and Danny was a great addition.”

When did the Buckeyes know Seth Lundy was out?

Penn State was without one of its key players in Sunday’s game as Seth Lundy did not make the trip. Holtmann was asked when players are informed that their opponent might be without a key play when it’s a late announcement.

“We’ll show personnel two days out and then we’ll touch on it as we’re leading up to tip,” he said. “Thirty-five minutes before, when we meet we’ll do a personnel report. That’s when I tell them Seth Lundy’s out. This just means that other guys are probably going to get a few more shots. This could tweak some of our matchups.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy