From the moment he stepped on the stage at the Schottenstein Center for the first time being introduced as the newest head coach for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, Chris Holtmann was recruiting.
Inheriting a basketball team on a steady decline in the last seasons under former head coach Thad Matta, Holtmann knew he had a project on his hands, one that could not be fixed with the current roster only. In athletic director Gene Smith’s eyes, that is why he stood out.
“We sought a high-intensity individual with an emphasis on academics, someone who is relentless in recruiting with great ties to the great state of Ohio and the contiguous states,” Smith said at the press conference. “We found a proven winner who’s a community engager and bottom line fits our culture.”
In his first full summer as the head coach of the Buckeyes, Holtmann is already making a major impact on the recruiting front. After landing two four-star recruits in the 2018 class, he landed four-star forward Alonzo Gaffney, the top 2019 prospect in the state of Ohio according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
With Gaffney’s commitment, Holtmann kept a promise he made in his opening press conference in which he called for Ohio State to, “dominate the state in recruiting” and making that a daily focus for the coaching staff.
It’s been more than just Ohio for Holtmann since he arrived at Ohio State. In the 2018 class, only one of the four recruits were Ohio natives, three-star forward Justin Ahrens. Instead, Holtmann was helping bring Ohio State to the national spotlight again, convincing players from New Jersey, Texas and California to join him in Columbus.
That trend has not stopped with Holtmann continuing to build up his 2019 class. Ohio State landed five-star guard DJ Carton, the No. 2 ranked guard in the nation and the No. 1 recruit from the state of Iowa. Carton joins the likes of D’Angelo Russell, Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas as the only five-star recruits Ohio State has had since the 2009 season.
In his short time with Ohio State, after going to the NCAA Tournament in three full seasons as the head coach at Butler, Holtmann has created a reputation for himself. Inheriting a team with scoring struggles and defensive inefficiencies, he brought it back to life in his first season.
Ever since he first took the job with the Buckeyes, Holtmann had an idea of how to bring that life back into the basketball program: with energy in his team’s playing style.
“Aggressive, attacking. We want to be physical and tough and tough minded,” he said. “But we want to play aggressive, attacking style and we want our guys to play with freedom. We want them to go out there and cut loose and play. I think that’s what people will see when they watch our team.”
Last season, the players on the Ohio State roster bought into that culture change, going back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2015 season. It was a culture that the 2018 class bought into, a class that Holtmann had to build very quickly from the time he was hired in June 2017.
Now, as he begins to build the 2019 class, starting with Gaffney and Carton, players seem to be continuing to buy into Holtmann and his culture at Ohio State.