Before he steps into key Ohio State role, walk through Atlantis with Tanner Holden

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – After a few hours at sea, Tanner Holden doesn’t mind a chance to stretch his legs.

It’s the final day of Ohio State’s foreign exhibition trip and the Buckeyes have fulfilled their on-court responsibilities. Having defeated Egypt and Puerto Rico’s national teams during the prior two days, this Monday has just one item on the itinerary: a morning catamaran cruise that will take the Buckeyes out for some snorkeling and diving. The remaining time at Atlantis belongs to the players, who are walking en masse from one end of the resort to the other.

Gliding among them is Holden, the fourth-year Wright State transfer with two years of eligibility. Ohio State is headed to the Royal West Tower, and Holden falls in step at the back of the party with this Dispatch reporter.

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“I thought we all had fun,” he says, passing Carmine’s, the Italian restaurant where the Buckeyes ate dinner August 4, their first night here. “We did a lot of things together. We stayed together, played really good teams this week. Learned a lot about us on the court and off the court, so I thought overall just a good week.”

It’s approaching lunchtime, but this stretch of the resort that features restaurants and souvenir shops doesn’t fill up until the evening so the Buckeyes largely have it to themselves. A few onlookers turn heads as Holden’s teammates continue ahead, most of them shirtless and still enjoying the afterglow of the cruise. Coach Chris Holtmann is asking if the group wants to grab ice cream as Holden, who took a similar trip to Italy as a Wright State freshman, reflects on what exactly these Buckeyes learned about themselves this summer.

“There were stretches in the games where we really had to face adversity,” he said. “We had new guys out there, some young faces, some people not familiar with the system but I thought we did a great job of sticking together, keeping to our core values that we talked about this summer. We got to talk to each other all the time. We’re here 24/7 hanging out, doing things in unfamiliar territory. We did a good job of really building that bond.”

Ahead of Holden, Holtmann is standing, incredulous, outside the Ben & Jerry’s that won’t open for business until the late afternoon. It’s the hottest day of the trip, but ice cream will have to wait until later.

Over Holden’s left shoulder, rows of multi-level yachts with names such as “No Bad Ideas” and “Chillaxing” are docked at the marina as crew members wash their exteriors. To his right is a pathway to the Imperial Ballroom, where he scored 15 points against Egypt and 6 against Puerto Rico to finish third on the roster for the trip. It was another in a series of steps Holden has taken since transferring to the Buckeyes last spring and has him in line for a significant role on a rebuilt roster.

“We’ve got a lot of really, really good players,” Holden said, an easy smile creasing his face. “I mean, everyone can do a little bit of everything. We’ve got a lot of scorers, a lot of versatile players. We’ve got a lot of good defenders. I think overall we’re a very well-rounded team.”

After a few moments, we make our way inside, where the air conditioning is pumping and the crowds grow. Holden and his teammates enter the Crystal Court Shops and he passes a Rolex store on his left, a Balenciaga one on his right and makes his way down a few stairs that lead into the vast casino.

Later, some of his teammates plan to try their hands at three-card poker or the roulette tables. Holden said it’s been shared experiences like those that will pay dividends for the upcoming season.

“Going up to the Bridge Suite and sitting around talking to guys for an hour before the game,” he said while discussing highlights from the trip. “It’s not always the wins and losses, because in a few years those things will get left in the dust. I think the connections we’re building right now, the memories we’re making right now in the short time that we’ve been together will last us a lifetime. Coach Holtmann talked about that lot.”

Case in point: Holden’s roommate for the trip was freshman walk-on Colby Baumann, a native Texan who finished his prep career at Bradenton (Florida) IMG Academy.

“Two completely different backgrounds,” Holden said. “Spending time with him, we’re just trying to build bonds. I think it’s good the way they set up roommates. You get to hang out with people you might not hang out with on a daily basis.”

Now it’s into the main lobby of the Royal, one that features a sizeable fish tank on the lower level. Some of Holden’s teammates are out of eyesight, already through the East Tower lobby and to the outdoor walkway connecting the two.

A double-digit scorer during each of his three years with the Raiders, Holden averaged a career-best 20.1 points last season while helping Wright State win an NCAA Tournament First Four game by scoring 37 points against Bryant. Ohio State was the first school to call once he entered his name into the transfer portal and wound up being the only school to host him on a visit. Holtmann has been consistent in his description of Holden since his arrival, praising his natural abilities and effort while also cautioning that he will need time to acclimate to the level.

Two games against international competition only provide a window into what the season could look like, but Holden was among Ohio State’s biggest positives while at Atlantis. Finally in the lobby of his hotel after a 10-minute walk, this opinion is expressed to Holden.

“Coach (Jake) Diebler, coach Holtmann, coach (Mike) Netti, they put a lot of confidence in all of us,” he said. “They talked to me before it. I thought a big thing was just to play my game, for all of us to play our games, attack, be aggressive. I thought that was a big thing for me. Don’t do anything I’m not used to doing. Try to be a complete player, offensively, defensively, as a leader.

“I think it’ll be a group from top to bottom. Just gotta keep playing my game, do what I can do to win games for these guys.”

The time will come for that. A smile and a handshake later, it was into the elevators and off for some fun in the sun with his teammates.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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