Chris Holtmann knew he was going to need backcourt help going into the 2018-19 season.
With the loss of both Kam Williams and Andrew Dakich, who will return to Ohio State as a graduate assistant coach, the second-year head coach’s top priority in the offseason was to bring in depth at the guard position.
So Holtmann did just that. With three-star guard Duane Washington Jr. and four-star guard Luther Muhammad coming to Ohio State as part of the 2018 recruiting class, the Buckeyes added two more guard transfers including Keyshawn Woods, a graduate transfer from Wake Forest.
However, when it comes to depth in the backcourt, the transition began last season.
At the beginning of the 2017-18 season, C.J. Jackson was viewed as the starting point guard for Ohio State. For him, the pressure was difficult to overcome.
“Earlier in the season, I was struggling just with expectations from the coaches, what I wanted for myself, what my teammates wanted out of me,” Jackson said.
Just 10 games into the season, Jackson had a wake-up call: Holtmann benched him in the first home conference game of the season against Michigan.
Despite scoring 17 points and six rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench, Jackson used it as a moment to reflect on who he was and what he could be for the team.
“(Holtmann) brought it to my attention to just be selfless and everything will come,” Jackson said. “So, once I started thinking about just being more serving and how can I help and pick and choose my spots where I can be aggressive or where I can get Keita [Bates-Diop] the ball, things like that, it kind of helped for me and the game started to really slow down.”
Whether it was playing as the primary ball handler alongside Williams or sophomore guard Musa Jallow, or shifting off-ball and playing with Dakich, Jackson said his mentality last season was to play wherever he was needed in the backcourt.
With the addition of Woods, Jackson is using that same mentality to develop their relationship on the court prior to the start of the season.
“Playing together, open gyms, two-on-two, but so far, I think we are meshing pretty good,” Jackson said. “Just being able to read each other and play off each other will definitely be big this season and so far so good.”
Jackson said the summer workouts between him and Woods instill trust and chemistry between the two players that will help them both throughout the season.
Looking at the roster in the upcoming season, Ohio State has an opportunity to spread the workload among the guards, something the team did not have one season ago.
“Based on what we have on paper, we have more guards, more guys that can handle the ball, make a little bit more decisions on like coming off ball screens and things like that,” Jackson said. “It should be a lot more competitive in practice as regards to that.”
However, no matter how much he will play compared to the others, Jackson knows he will set the tone and be the leader for a position that looks much different than last season.
“We kind of have to start over a little bit,” Jackson said. “We got a new team, so we, people who are returning, know what it takes.”