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Chris Holtmann, Ohio State not contacted by FBI; five notes from press conference

Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann speaks to the media after an event titled “An Evening With Coach Holtmann” on Aug. 1, 2017. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports Editor

Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann addressed the media Thursday at the Schottenstein Center, following his players speaking on Wednesday before the team begins practice Saturday.

Holtmann began the press conference saying, “It’s been a pretty slow week here in college basketball,” indirectly referencing the FBI’s investigation into college basketball recruiting that will likely have a deep impact on the sport.

Here are five points from Holtmann’s press conference.

Ohio State not contacted by FBI in investigation

The news of the week has been the current FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball, stemming from fraud and bribery involving 10 people, several Power 5 schools, financial advisors and an executive at Adidas.

Assistant coaches from Auburn, Arizona, Oklahoma State and USC have been charged in the investigation. Holtmann said no coach has been contacted in relation to the investigation and that to his knowledge, no one currently at the university has been implicated.

“No, we have not been contacted. I have not, no one on my staff has, no one at the university has,” Holtmann said.

The issue of essentially paying to gain the favor of recruits is a complex one, Holtmann said, given the ongoing debate on paying collegiate athletes. He added that while the NCAA does an effective job of enforcing violations and issuing out penalties, this investigation could prove to be the first step in permanently deterring coaches from breaking the rules in recruiting battles.

“The FBI is a little more scary than the NCAA,” Holtmann said. “I think there is an element of fear right now, quite honestly, that if there’s a hope that there might be some change because of that, it might come out of this.

“But I really think it’s a really complex issue like I said that involves all kinds of things regarding amateurism and how to potentially look at kind of revolutionary change. I’m not saying I support that, but I think there may be some important dialogue moving forward.”

Defense will be Ohio State’s backbone

Given Holtmann’s limited time with the team due to NCAA offseason restrictions coupled with the coaching staff’s aggressive pursuit of the recruiting trail for class of 2018 players, he hasn’t had an extended look of the team to this point. However, what Ohio State has worked on is poised to become its bedrock.

“If we’re going to be a team to reach its potential, I think our foundation is going to have to be how we defend,” Holtmann said.

Several players said Wednesday that in the two hours they’re afforded with Holtmann each week, the emphasis is on defensive alignment and being sound in transition. Lacking proven scorers, Holtmann believes that defense will be a key factor if the team is to reach its potential this season.

“I think there are times where we could struggle to score this year against some really good teams, really good defensive teams,” he said.

Roster outlook

Ohio State returns three starters, with the center position being the one that’s likely to be the most contested between sophomore Micah Potter and freshman Kaleb Wesson. Redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop will fill the vacant forward position.

Holtmann will rely on the defense this season to be competitive, but the scoring will have to come from someone. It’s still a mystery who those scorers will be.

“I do think between [Jae’Sean Tate] and Keita and Kam [Williams], those are three guys who have shown the ability to score,” Holtmann said. “I think some of them, their efficiency can improve, to be quite honest with you.”

Junior point guard C.J. Jackson will be asked to do a lot this year, Holtmann said. Graduate transfer Andrew Dakich will play point guard in relief of Jackson, but Holtmann’s comments aren’t surprising given Jackson is the only true point guard on the roster.

“We’ve met with him a lot, probably as much as anybody on the team,” Holtmann said. “His focus just literally has to be on learning what we’re expecting him to do. Just work and get better every day.”

Kaleb Wesson’s physical maturity and potential role

Holtmann does not know yet whether or not any of the freshmen will be starters for his team, but some have made a strong case so far.

The one that appears to stand out the most is former four-star forward Kaleb Wesson. He is capable of playing at both forward and center andhas made drastic improvements physically coming into this season, Holtmann said.

“[His body transformation] was a major, major component I think in his development . . . He’s very gifted, and he’s very skilled,” Holtmann said. “But one of the things that people said to me before I even got here was they questioned his motor. And I think that came in part because of his fitness. So he’s taking incredible ownership and to be really applauded for improving in that area . . . He’s going to play an important role for us for sure.”

Along with Wesson, forward Musa Jallow gives Holtmann a pair of 17-year-old forwards who could have an impact on Ohio State’s roster this season.

“I can’t believe I’ve got two 17-year-old freshmen. I don’t know if I’ve ever had two 17-year-old freshmen,” he said. “[Jallow] will get what he earns and if he earns [starting minutes], he’ll get that opportunity. I think we have a number of guys that I can say that with right now.”

Ohio State’s recruiting success over the past week-and-a-half

Two weeks ago, Ohio State had zero players in the 2018 recruiting class. Now, there are four players in the class, including two four-star recruits, that ranks ninth in the country.

“Most I’ve ever had [before] is two in about 10 days,” Holtmann said. “That’s the most I’ve ever had.”

Guards Duane Washington and Luther Muhammad, and forwards Justin Ahrens and Jaedon LeDee are committed to Holtmann’s Buckeyes for 2018, with a chance of getting immediate playing time, given the current look of the roster. Holtmann said that pitch was one Ohio State was in a position to make, as well as the opportunity to be a part of a team who is an underdog at the moment.

“Everybody that’s recruiting these young men are selling playing time and immediate impact,” Holtmann said. “So there’s a little bit of a level playing field because everybody’s kind of selling that. But certainly when you look at our roster as opposed to maybe other rosters, young men can see, ‘Hey, listen, this is a real opportunity for us here given some of the depth concerns.’ And that’s how we intended it.”

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