The past two seasons of Ohio State men’s basketball haven’t been easy to watch for the fan base, let alone the vast network of alumni who once competed for Big Ten and national championships. Former Ohio State point guard Scoonie Penn (1998-2000) was one of those alumni.
But now as the program’s director of player development, Penn will have an opportunity to try to bring his beloved team back to the top.
Penn had been looking to break into the collegiate coaching ranks the past few years. So when Chris Holtmann was introduced as the Buckeyes new head coach, the former Buckeye made it clear he was interested in joining the staff.
“He grabbed me right after my press conference here and said, ‘I would love to get the foot in the door with coaching,” Holtmann said as he recalled the brief conversation with Penn. “‘I’ve been trying to do that, would love to do it at my alma mater.’”
Following a few conversations between the two and a brief evaluation period, Holtmann made it official June 11, naming Penn the program’s director of player development.
He was the choice all along, Holtmann said.
“I think this really gives him a foot in the door and really a perspective into, ‘Hey, is this what I want to do long term?’” he said. “And it’s going to give him some experiences into how the inner workings of the program. I think he’s excited about that and we’re excited about that.”
Penn spent over 10 years playing professionally overseas before he began coaching his son’s AAU team and working at several companies around Columbus. He said he had discussed with former Ohio State coach Thad Matta if there was a chance to become a full-time staff member, but nothing ever came to fruition.
Yet, he has continued to stick around the program and build relationships with a few current players and several notable alumni, many of whom play for the Ohio State alumni team, Scarlet & Gray, in the $2 million basketball tournament known as The Tournament.
“The way I look at it, I’ve been a coach my whole life,” Penn said. “I’ve always seen myself as a coach, as a leader. So for me here, this role doesn’t seem like anything new to me. This just gives me an opportunity to learn from the inside.
“I think I’ll be a good asset to these guys because again, I’m a guy who’s played it and went through it. Not saying coach Holtmann and his staff won’t, but I think I bring something different to the table and I’m here to use it as much as possible.”
Penn’s role will mostly be off the court as a member of the support staff, as he is not being able to coach or participate in practice against the players. He said he will still be active at practices, just not as involved as he’d like to be on the court.
Away from basketball, Penn has been involved in the community, putting on skills camps for children and volunteering time at local recreational centers. He said some of that will end because of NCAA guidelines, but other charitable events will continue, such as his Cornhole 4 Cancer.
Penn’s ties to the central Ohio area and the university are what made him an optimal candidate for the job, but there are plenty of similarities in the type of players Penn and Holtmann are both in search of.
“You can tell how hard guys play. You can tell by the effort,” Penn said. “Yes, it’s about winning, but you also have to have the right guys on the court, the right guys in the program that’s willing to run through that wall because it’s bigger than the name on the back of the jersey. It’s about what’s on the front of the jersey.”
Penn’s past success with Ohio State is a source of motivation. But it’s not just the rebuilding of the program that he is a part of now. Penn has begun a path that he hopes will lead him to being the primary man on the sidelines.
“My goal isn’t to be an assistant coach my whole career. I understand the progression. There’s steps,” he said. “I just think knowing who I am — my personality — I would love to be a coach of a big program. The ultimate goal is to win national championships. If you’re not in for that, then what are you in it for.”