Chris Holtmann watched his four commits in the 2018 recruiting class officially sign their letters of intent Wednesday, marking the passing of his first signing day as Ohio State’s head coach.
The class features two four-stars — shooting guard Luther Muhammad and small forward Jaedon LeDee — as well as three-star prospects small forward Justin Ahrens and point guard Duane Washington.
Wednesday was the first day of college basketball’s early signing period which ends Nov. 15. The regular signing period begins April 11 and ends May 16.
Holtmann said it was an exciting moment to see the four players sign on the dotted lines and make their commitments to the Buckeyes official.
“We feel like is these four guys bring a level of a skillset that’s important, some skills that we were looking for improving in some areas, shooting being one of the them and ball-handling and obviously guard play,” Holtmann said.
The class is regarded as the 17th-best nationally and the sixth-best in the Big Ten.
While none of the four have set foot on the court in an Ohio State jersey just yet, Holtmann has begun to see where each player fits in on the team. He said he can see each of the four players occupying multiple positions, and believes no one in the class is limited to just one position.
In Washington and Muhammad, Holtmann sees a pair of players who could best be described as “playmaking guards” rather than being limited to either a shooting or point guard. He said the duo both bring unique skillsets to the table, and that he envisions them complementing one another and playing together well on the court.
“Duane is a prolific shooter, he is a very capable shooter. He’s high level when it comes to that and he can make plays with the ball in his hands and he can facilitate for others,” Holtmann said. “Luther can as well. Luther is a paint-touch guy, but he can also make 3s and he brings an edge and a competitiveness in how he plays on both ends. I really think they’re going to complement each other well.”
As for LeDee, the highest-rated forward in the class, Holtmann believes he could step up and be one of the better offensive forwards on the team. He said LeDee can play both as a small and power forward offensively, but admitted the recruit needs to improve on his defensive ability.
“He’s a prolific rebounder, but I think he’s going to have to continue to grow in the area of being versatile defensively,” Holtmann said. “And that’s what’s I’m continuing to challenge him with. But I do think offensively he can play multiple positions and when we play two forwards and we don’t necessarily play a tradition post because that’ll happen at times.”
Having just joined the Buckeyes in June, Holtmann did not have a lot of time to scramble together a recruiting class for the 2018 season. Before he had a chance to get out and recruit prospects, he said he first needed to finish compiling his staff and get his bearings.
Given the minimized time window to bring in recruits, Holtmann said there was a sense of urgency on his staff to make up for lost time.
“There’s no question there was an urgency to it,” Holtmann said. “That took a couple weeks really to figure out where our roster was, where it was going to be potentially moving forward. What our needs were without really, you know I hadn’t watched us play. So I didn’t have a great familiarity.”
Though the staff got off to a late start on the recruiting trail, the urgency by the coaches paid off towards the end of September. All four recruits committed to the Buckeyes during the same week, with LeDee committing on Sept. 19, Washington on Sept. 20, Muhammad on Sept. 22 and Ahrens on Sept. 24.
Holtmann said the ability to lock down all four players over such a short timespan was the result of a staff conducting official visits and having already established relationships with some of the recruits while the staff was at Butler helped the commitments roll in quickly.
“Obviously you don’t anticipate a week like that, but as I said back a couple weeks ago and as I told my staff, let’s just keep doing what we’re doing and eventually there’s going to be dividends that are going to pay off because, as we were hearing things from families based on their visits or how they felt about us, I knew it was just a matter of time,” Holtmann said.
For Ahrens, the process went a little bit slower than most of the other recruits. Ahrens had originally been an Ohio State commit under former head coach Thad Matta, but decommitted following Matta’s departure.
But Holtmann and his staff had previously attempted to recruit Justin’s brother, Kyle, while Holtmann was at Butler and thus had established relationships with the Ahrens family. This, combined with Justin’s previously established interest in attending Ohio State, helped Holtmann re-secure the commitment.
“Once I realized that his process was going to be a little bit slower, we said that’s great because it’ll give us a chance to understand why he committed and then looked to open it up and we got a great feel for that,” Holtmann said. “I always told him, ‘We should have a trophy up in my office for the head coach that saw you play the most in July. I would get it for sure.’”
Holtmann still has one open scholarship available for the 2018 class. However, the new head coach is not yet rushing out to add anyone just yet. Just like Holtmann said each of the four he has already added were high priority targets, he wants to make sure anyone else the Buckeyes offer that spot to is going to be exactly the right guy for the team.
“We will be aggressive and maybe add one more freshman, but we may not, too,” Holtmann said. “Right now … we’re recruiting a couple, but we want to be patient and we want to make sure it’s the right one.”