Many students are away from campus for the summer, but coach Chris Holtmann and the Ohio State basketball team are hard at work preparing for next season.
Holtmann took time to address the media Wednesday, giving updates on various players, scheduling and keys for the 2019-2020 team.
“Good last few weeks to a couple months for our guys, I think they’ve had a chance to get home and spend some time,” Holtmann said. “All of our returners are here right now, as well as Ibrahima [Diallo] because he needed to get here a little bit early.”
Much time is spent in the offseason determining key areas of improvement for players and the team as a whole.
Holtmann dove into what’s he’s seen from a few key guys, starting with junior forward Kaleb Wesson. Wesson was the team’s leading scorer this past season, and got the chance to workout for a few NBA teams before deciding to return to Columbus, Ohio for another season. Coaches from those teams provided valuable feedback on where he stands as a player.
“It’s all the things that he’s heard: fitness, defending ball screens. Ball screen defense has become a constant, and he knows that,” Holtmann said. “There’s no question he made improvements in his mobility, in his ball screen defense from year one to year two. But those things continue.”
He added that scouts also want to see Wesson’s turnovers decrease and rebounds increase a tad.
Speaking on the team as a whole, seven of Ohio State’s 12 potential contributors next season will be underclassmen. Experience and a veteran presence is something that Holtmann sees as a primary area of improvement for the squad moving forward.
“Old wins in college basketball, we know that,” Holtmann said. “We need to get old, but that’s gonna take some time. We’re not quite there yet, but that’s kind of how we planned it too. We knew there was gonna be a process to getting old.”
With that in mind, one returning senior Ohio State will have with multiple years’ experience is forward Andre Wesson.
Wesson averaged career highs in points (8.6), rebounds (4.1) and assists (1.8) as a junior this past season, and his growth is key to the team’s success in 2019-2020.
“He’s gonna be critical for us,” Holtmann said. “Andre, he’s a great example of a young man who’s just gotten better every year, and really provided some great leadership for us last year. We’re not in the NCAA tournament without him. And I think he’s gotta take the next step as a player, and as a leader.”
Senior guard C.J. Walker, a transfer from Florida State, is another name to watch after sitting the required year following his switch to Ohio State.
“We felt like we needed a guy who had the ability to get to the paint and create free throw opportunities, and be a presence, a physical presence, and he’s been able to do that,” Holtmann said.
One place Holtmann hopes those young players can gain experience is through a rigorous non-conference schedule.
Cincinnati, West Virginia and Kentucky have already been confirmed for the Buckeyes next season, with another potential big name coming from the annual Big Ten-ACC challenge and a potential match-up against Villanova.
“I had one of our staff guys say to me, we were talking about who to scrimmage, and he said ‘well we might as well just scrimmage the Warriors given our schedule,” Holtmann said.
Asked about it Wednesday, Holtmann echoed the sentiment that a tough non-conference schedule helps guide a young team through early growing pains and learn quickly.
Unlike other sports, basketball coaches get a lot of say in their scheduling. Coaches employ many different philosophies in that regard.
“There’s some math that goes into it now,” Holtmann said. “You hear a variety of opinions when you have 14 coaches sitting and talking [at Big Ten meetings].”
Holtmann recalled Purdue coach Matt Painter’s stance against easier opponents, saying it hurts strength of schedule and analytics come March, while other coaches state they “need to get wins.” Holtmann tends to lean more toward Painter’s point of view.
“If I’m going to err, it’s going to be with providing a harder non-conference [schedule],” Holtmann said.
Outside players and scheduling, Ohio State also looks to adjust to a new face on staff. After assistant coach Mike Schrage left to become head coach at Elon, Holtmann hired Vanderbilt assistant Jake Diebler onto his staff in Columbus.
Diebler isn’t unfamiliar with the Buckeyes’ program. In addition to spending three years as video coordinator from 2014-2016, his brother Jon is the school’s all-time leader in three-point field goals.
“Jake obviously has great affinity for Ohio State, but more importantly — I’m not hiring somebody just because they love Ohio State — he’s good at what he does,” Holtmann said. “He had a tough season last year [at Vanderbilt], and I think going through that experience provides a lot of benefit. He’s a really eager young coach.”
Summer workouts will continue for the Buckeyes in earnest, with the remaining freshman arriving in the coming weeks. They will open their season in November.