Here are five things we learned from new Ohio State assistant Jack Owens
It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Jack Owens.
After five years as the head coach at Miami (Ohio), Owens was fired following a 14-18 record during the 2021-22 season but stayed within the state when Chris Holtmann hired him as an assistant coach. The news was official announced April 11 and brought an Indianapolis native with nine prior seasons on Matt Painter’s staff at Purdue to his credit.
That was more than two months ago. Since then, the Buckeyes have finished putting together a three-man transfer class to combine with five freshman and present the bulk of a remade roster in Holtmann’s sixth season. Along the way, Owens has hit the ground running with recruiting for the Buckeyes and started the process of building trust and relationships with his new club.
“It’s been good,” Owens said Wednesday afternoon, seated in the postgame interview room at Value City Arena. “My family moved in last week so that transition is over. It’s been great. The coaching staff is great. The guys got back here about a week or so and everything is going well.”
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Here are five things we learned from Owens’ first official press conference as a member of the Ohio State coaching staff.
1. Jack Owens holds Chris Holtmann, Matt Painter in high esteem
In multiple ways, Owens was asked about his attraction to Ohio State and what he liked about the opportunity to join the Buckeyes. In each case, Owens’ answers came back to his new boss, Holtmann.
“The opportunity to work for someone like coach Holtmann,” he said when asked what made the Buckeyes an attractive spot. “It goes there, and then we do have a great staff here. Everyone’s on the same page, and obviously you want to be around good people and guys who do it the right way and coach Holtmann definitely does that.”
Holtmann has agreed to a contract extension with Ohio State that will have him in Columbus through the 2027-28 season.
“It’s something well-deserved for coach Holtmann,” Owens said. “A guy who does it the right way, not just from a basketball standpoint but from an academic standpoint. You’re talking about a program, I’ve done my homework, the team has over a 3.0 GPA. That speaks volumes. To be able to go to the NCAA Tournament every year, and now just trying to help him move the program forward is why I’m here.
“Obviously I think we have a great chance to do that here in the future, but it’s great to know he has stability, he wants to be here and the administration wants him to be here as well.”
For his final six years at Purdue, Owens was Painter’s associate head coach.
“Coach Painter’s a good friend,” Owens said. “Brad Stevens is a good friend of mine as well. There’s certain guys you lean on. They obviously know coach Holtmann and everyone obviously raves about coach and how he goes about his business and you just want to align yourself with the right people.”
Owens also credited longtime Eastern Illinois coach Rick Samuels, who recruited and coached him as a player, and Tommy Collins, who coached him for one season at Howard Community College and then gave him his start in coaching there.
2. How can Jack Owens help ‘move the program forward?’
In five seasons, Holtmann has reached the NCAA Tournament each year during which it was held but has not yet advanced to the Sweet 16. The Buckeyes came within a game of winning a regular-season Big Ten title in 2017-18, Holtmann’s first season, and lost to Illinois in the Big Ten tournament title game in 2021 but have not yet won any hardware.
Owens said he doesn’t think the Buckeyes are far off from ending those droughts.
“Just gotta stay consistent,” he said. “You get to the NCAA Tournament, it’s about matchups and those kind of things. If you can get a good seed in the NCAA Tournament, allow yourself to get the favorable matchups and then you’ve got to have a little bit of luck as well. What I mean by luck is hopefully you can stay injury-free. Those things play a big part in a team moving on as well.
“You’ve got to put yourself in position. You don’t just start the NCAA Tournament. You’ve got to earn your ticket to go to the NCAA Tournament and that’s hard in itself.”
Last season, Ohio State dropped to a No. 7 seed after having lost four of five games leading into March Madness. In 2021, the Buckeyes earned a No. 2 seed but lost their final four games of the regular season. In 2019, Ohio State claimed a No. 11 seed and upset Iowa State in the first round but endured a stretch of six losses in seven games during the middle of the season.
Avoiding such stretches would go a long way toward securing more favorable NCAA Tournament matchups and improving odds of advancing.
“You just have to stay consistent,” he said. “Injuries can be a big part of it. It’s a long season. You’ve got to stay positive and stay the course. You have to put yourself in position to get to the NCAA Tournament and each game matters when you’re trying to build a resume.”
3. Exact coaching roles are still not publicly known
Since losing Ryan Pedon to Illinois State (head coach) and Tony Skinn to Maryland (assistant coach), Holtmann has had the opportunity to shuffle responsibilities among his new coaching staff that also includes Mike Netti. Holtmann has publicly stated that associate coach Jake Diebler, who coached defense last year, will oversee the offense this season.
While at Ohio State, Holtmann has had one coach in charge of the offense, another for the defense and the third in charge of personnel. Owens has experience at both ends of the court, having recruited the likes of Caleb Swanigan to Purdue and also helping develop multiple all-Big Ten guards, but he said his specific role won’t be solidified until closer to the season.
“I think developing players is going to be key for all of us on staff,” he said. “That’s a big thing here in regards to player development, but at the same time we want to recruit at a high level but also get the right guys here who belong here at Ohio State. That’s very important. It’s a great place. Right now we’ll continue in player development and as we move forward to game preparation and those kind of things we will continue to dive into those kind of things.”
Owens referenced the concept of focusing on player development multiple times during his time with the media.
“First of all, be consistent,” he said of his approach. “Each guy that comes in, everyone has a different skill level and things to get better at. Identifying those things and allowing them to grow is important, for sure.”
4. Tanner Holden, Brice Sensabaugh and Zed Key got mentions
Asked to name players who had caught his eye in the early going, Owens deflected, saying that everyone had been impressive so far. When he was asked specifically about Ohio State’s center position, Owens discussed third-year player Zed Key and first-year player Felix Okpara.
“Zed’s back,” Owens said. “He’s a guy who I believe is going to take another step. Felix, he’s a great talent. He’s young. With young guys, you never know until we get there, but from a talent standpoint, every guy we have, they’re good enough. Now, let them develop. I truly believe we have good pieces to take a step.”
Owens was asked specifically about two players: freshman Brice Sensabaugh and Wright State transfer Tanner Holden.
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“I think he’s a guy that at some point could be a leading scorer,” Owens said of Sensabaugh. “He has the ability to put the ball in the hole. I don’t know when. I don’t want to put pressure on a guy like that, but in time I think he could be a guy that could score the basketball at a high level. He can really shoot the ball. He just has a feel and a knack for scoring the ball. That’s what I’ve seen so far, but it’s early.
“It’s been one week, but he’s a guy that I think in time could be a good scorer.”
Holden played three times against Owens’ Redhawks and scored 18 points. Two of those games came during his freshman year and one as a sophomore. Each year, Holden has increased his scoring average from 11.8 to 15.8 to 20.1 last season.
Owens said some of that will translate to the higher level of play in the Big Ten compared to the Horizon League.
“The difference is the size probably from conference to conference, but his ability and work ethic has been very consistent,” Owens said. “I think he’s a guy that’s going to continue to work. I think you’re going to see a guy who can still score with angles and score without the ball (always in his hands). That’s who he is. I don’t think that matters what level he’s at.
“I think he’s a guy that if you cut his production in half, you still have a really good player just from a points standpoint, but I think he’s a guy that’s going to have a good year as well.”
5. He was in Mackey Arena for the epic Evan Turner-Robbie Hummel showdown
Ohio State was unranked and fresh off an 11-point loss at Minnesota when it entered the home of No. 6 Purdue on Jan. 12, 2010. Mackey Arena was packed to the rafters, as per usual, and the Boilermakers didn’t disappoint the partisan crowd – at least during the first half. Behind a Robbie Hummel 29-point outburst, already his career high, Purdue held a 41-29 halftime lead. At one point, Hummel hit six straight threes to score 18 consecutive points for the Boilermakers.
Then in the second half, Ohio State’s Evan Turner put up 24 of his 32 points to power a comeback leading to a 70-66 upset. At one point, Turner scored 14 straight points during the final 3:57 of the game as the Buckeyes turned a 62-52 deficit around with a 16-4 run.
Owens, in his third season on Painter’s staff, had a front-row seat for it all.
“I remember Robbie hitting some shots and Evan making a big-time 3 late to win the game,” Owens said. “Robbie jammed his finger or something and had to go into the locker room. He was hot that first half and Evan played very well and won the game for Ohio State.”
Owens had a prior connection with Turner, one that he would later share with Keita Bates-Diop. Both would become Big Ten players of the year at Ohio State.
“I recruited Evan out of Illinois when I was at Purdue,” Owens said. “I recruited Keita Bates as well. Just quality players. You look at a guy like Evan Turner, his career and what he’s able to do as a player and what he’s doing now speaks volumes of who he is.”