Ohio State bucking pattern, relying on freshmen relatively than transfers

By John Fanta
FOX Sports activities Faculty Basketball Author

Ohio State‘s basketball facility was rather a lot like a first-grade classroom through the opening days of the varsity 12 months when the 2022-23 Buckeyes began understanding this summer season.

Certain, Chris Holtmann recruited his gamers and is greater than aware of what they’ve to supply, however even he chuckles when requested if he has gotten a reputation improper or has performed a double-take when addressing his staff.

It is easy to grasp why. No staff within the Huge Ten has gone by a roster overhaul fairly like Ohio State, with seven of this system’s high eight scorers from final season gone, and a complete of eight newcomers getting into this system.

Whereas there’s a lot for the Buckeyes to determine within the coming weeks and months, the pinnacle coach nonetheless has a smile on his face. The 50-year-old Holtmann, who in Might acquired a contract extension by the 2027-28 season, is taking a special path constructing his staff compared to the present faculty basketball storylines.

Of the eight newcomers, 5 are freshmen. Whereas the Buckeyes’ recruiting class doesn’t function a five-star labeled expertise, total the group is ranked eighth within the nation by 247sports.com and is one of the best within the Huge Ten.

4 gamers from this class are ranked as four-star prospects, with Roddy Gayle Jr., Bruce Thornton, Felix Okpara and Brice Sensabaugh all suiting up in scarlet and grey this season. Holtmann says all 4 can have the possibility to play immediately. Mix that with a trio of transfers in level guard Isaac Likekele (Oklahoma State), taking pictures guard Sean McNeil (West Virginia) and wing Tanner Holden (Wright State), and Holtmann actually has choices to fill out this rotation.

“This has been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my coaching career,” Holtmann informed FOX Sports activities when requested in regards to the roster turnover. “I would say this is the most new faces that I’ve had in my coaching career. You don’t typically have a freshman class this big in today’s game.”

In a world the place there have been greater than 1,700 names within the switch portal this offseason, many coaches want to add to their roster by bringing in skilled three or four-year gamers who’re searching for their subsequent cease.

There are workers members for some applications who’re both solely targeted on transfers or have stopped recruiting excessive schoolers as a result of they worth expertise over having to develop a prospect, by no means totally understanding if he’ll pan out.

Holtmann has introduced in a trio of transfers however sees this incoming freshman class as the important thing piece of the puzzle for the Buckeyes to make deeper runs in March.

“How do we take the next step?” Holtmann requested.

That is the query he has posed to his workers, and the one he has had loads of discussions about with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith. 

The Buckeyes have averaged 21.4 wins per season in Holtmann’s 5 years on the helm. They’ve made the NCAA Match in each season of his tenure, and so they have superior in three of the 4 appearances. 

What’s lacking for OSU? Making it to the second weekend of the Huge Dance, one thing the Buckeyes haven’t achieved in what might be a decade come subsequent March. Profitable the Huge Ten Match can be on the minds of the Buckeyes’ workers, as this system made it to the convention title recreation however fell quick to Illinois in 2021.

Holtmann has confirmed himself to be a constant winner, however he is aware of {that a} deep postseason run is the expectation in Columbus.

“It’s all about advancing to late March and into April. It’s about winning a Big Ten championship,” mentioned Holtmann. “We’ve been ranked in the top 15 every year we’ve been here. We’ve been in the top 10 in three of the five seasons. So, internally, even though we have some questions for this season with so many new guys and youth, my biggest thing I’ve tried to stress is how we take the next step.”

As essential as enhancing as a program is for Holtmann, he isn’t searching for a fast repair or a breakthrough representing a flash within the pan. 

“I’m not downplaying bringing in seven or eight transfers per year. Guys have done that well,” mentioned Holtmann. “But, that’s not what we want to do here. I’ve talked with Gene a lot about this. Our collective vision is to have a blend of experience with a class like we’re bringing in now. This is the best recruiting class we’ve had in our five years. We could struggle some early on, but I think we’ll be better for it this season and in the long haul.” 

Gone are one-and-done guard Malaki Branham and All-American ahead E.J. Liddell to the NBA Draft, two gamers who actually serve for instance of the totally different paths traveled by a participant at Ohio State. As joyful as Holtmann is for Branham, he didn’t precisely anticipate for the Buckeyes’ standout to blossom right into a top-20 NBA Draft decide.

That mentioned, Holtmann is aware of what having that caliber of expertise says about his program, and it was one in every of many ideas in his head after I requested him this query:

So, how do you coach freshmen in 2022 faculty basketball?

“Normalizing struggle. It’s a part of growth,” mentioned Holtmann, who mentioned it has gotten tougher to show. “You just keep reminding your kids of guys who struggled and then found their way on the other side of that adversity. You explain how rare it is to be a one-and-done, and a first-round draft pick. If you’re at Ohio State, and you’re not a guaranteed first-round pick, there’s no reason to leave at all.

“Look, Jared Sullinger was a top-five participant within the nation in 2010 and performed two years right here. Keita Bates-Diop was a top-30 expertise in his class and performed 4 years of faculty basketball. The purpose is, making ready youngsters for the challenges of their freshman 12 months is essential. Even elite prospects can battle some. At the present time, folks do not anticipate it as a lot, however it’s one thing we attempt to assist our children be taught in order that they are often able to embrace the problem of life within the Huge Ten and past.” 

There’s no question that the opportunities are present for the new Buckeyes on the block to jump right in and get significant minutes. Holtmann didn’t rule out the idea that he could have one, if not two freshmen in his starting five. 

“Bruce [Thornton] is bodily able to play the purpose guard place,” said Holtmann of the Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year, who’s ranked No. 46 in the 247sports.com composite rankings. “He performed the purpose very well in highschool, and truthfully, the adjustment for him to our stage may very well be seamless.” 

Holtmann also raved about the offensive game of 6-foot-6 wing Brice Sensabaugh. Out of Lake Highland Prep in Orlando, he was named Florida’s Mr. Basketball after averaging 25.1 points and 7.2 boards this past season while leading his team to the state tournament semifinals. 

“I believe Brice is tremendous gifted offensively,” said Holtmann. “We simply haven’t got many individuals who can do what he can obtain as a scorer.” 

Holtmann also said shooting guard Roddy Gayle Jr., the highest-ranked Buckeye recruit according to 247sports.com at No. 45, will be ready to play. Gayle is coming off groin surgery, but he still averaged 15.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game against high level competition in the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference. He has a 40-inch vertical and is a three-level scorer who has a lot of buzz surrounding him. 

The other four-star prospect for the Buckeyes is 6-foot-11 center Felix Okpara, who will get his opportunities this season, but Holtmann said his learning curve will be a little more significant. 

As for the players who are returning this season, junior forward Zed Key will be expected to take on an increased role in year three. He averaged 7.8 points and 5.6 boards per game, falling off in his scoring production after a strong start to the season that included a 20-point outing in an upset win over No. 1 Duke in Columbus.

“He has to develop his recreation and effectiveness,” said Holtmann. “We all know he could be a bodily presence for us, and now it is about constructing the talent stage. A giant secret’s getting him to turn out to be a greater ball display screen defender in these conditions, and a greater defender in low-post conditions. The opposite large factor is for him to be able to go from enjoying round 20 minutes per recreation to taking up a bigger chunk.” 

Another key returnee is Justice Sueing, who missed all but two games last season with an abdominal injury. The season before, the Cal transfer entered Columbus and started all 31 games, averaging 10.7 points and 5.5 rebounds for the Buckeyes. 

“Justice is one in every of our greatest gamers, and I anticipate him to actually escape,” said Holtmann. “His harm final season was a part of what we went by as a staff. We completed three video games out of first place within the Huge Ten and that put us in a tie for fourth. Accidents impacted us. Well being is as essential an element as something for our staff this 12 months.” 

And then there are the transfers. Likekele can give Ohio State a real defensive edge because he can switch onto almost anyone and can play two or three positions. Holtmann suggested that the Oklahoma State transfer could play some point-4 for the Buckeyes.

McNeil, who shot 37% from 3 last year and averaged 12.2 points per game, adds a perimeter threat to Ohio State’s offense. Holtmann said Holden has had more of a transition to the Buckeyes’ level of play, just having come from Wright State as opposed to the power-conference schools the other two transfers hail from, but that the 6-foot-6 wing will help OSU offensively as well. He averaged 20.1 points and 7.1 boards last season on an NCAA Tournament Wright State team.

There’s no doubt that what ends up happening in this upcoming Ohio State season carries a lot of variance, but that’s to be expected with the amount of roster change over the summer. During a time when transfers own so much recruiting real estate, Ohio State’s staff is loading up on high schoolers and betting on forming roster continuity while developing players.

“We wish to go the place we’ve not gotten but,” said Holtmann. “I do know we have now sure issues to determine, however I imagine this staff has the very best ceiling of any group we have had in my 5 years right here and that we are able to continue to grow on this within the coming seasons.

“Everything you want as a college coach, you can accomplish here in Columbus.”

John Fanta is a nationwide faculty basketball broadcaster and author for FOX Sports activities. He covers the game in quite a lot of capacities, from calling video games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Community to offering commentary on The Discipline of 68 Media Community. Observe him on Twitter @John_Fanta.


Get extra from Ohio State Buckeyes Observe your favorites to get details about video games, information and extra.