Chris Holtmann knows who will be on his team come the season’s first game. He just doesn’t know when the opening tip will be.
With a host of new faces and just a little over two months until the planned start of the season, Ohio State is still figuring out a preseason plan. Combined with the loss of key players, head coach Holtmann is taking a different approach to this new-look squad.
“I think we have a chance to really be different and have a chance to be much more versatile,” Holtmann said in an appearance on the “Morning Juice” podcast Friday. “We knew when [Kaleb Wesson] transitioned out of the program that we were going to look a lot differently because so much of what we did was centered around our big kid.”
The Buckeyes will have some returning players to help fill up the front court void left by Wesson, who averaged a team-high 14 points per game in the 2019-20 season. Senior forward Kyle Young and sophomore forward E.J. Liddell will likely both get an increase in usage in this upcoming season.
Holtmann said that Liddell’s growth as a worker over the course of last season had a great effect on his on-the-court production.
“He just had to learn how to play harder his freshman year. He went through the normal ups and downs that freshmen will go through,” Holtmann said. “He took it on himself, he started working harder in practice and he had a great start to the year but he started consistently being an everyday guy in practice that transitioned, he was one of our best players late in the year.”
In the backcourt, Holtmann praised junior guard Duane Washington Jr.’s development over the past two seasons while pointing to how critical he will be for the Buckeyes this season.
“His freshman year if you weren’t sitting on the rim, he probably wasn’t passing to you,” Holtmann said. “He’s learned a little bit about being more of a playmaker and he really transitioned as we moved through the back half of his sophomore year.”
Washington averaged the most points out of any returning Buckeye as he put up 11.5 points per game, 2.8 points higher than the next closest player: redshirt senior guard CJ Walker.
Holtmann said that the backcourt duo of Walker and Washington will be imperative to the Buckeyes’ success this season.
“[Duane] and CJ Walker are going to be critical for our backcourt,” Holtmann said. “Part of the reason we didn’t add a graduate transfer in the backcourt is because I really believe in CJ and Duane.”
While the Buckeyes added a talented group of players through the transfer portal, they have had some injury problems in the past. Graduate transfer forward Seth Towns is coming off a knee injury that kept him sidelined for the past two seasons and redshirt junior transfer Justice Sueing was cleared to practice last week after a foot injury benched him for the 2019-20 season.
For returning players, redshirt junior guard Musa Jallow sat out last season after getting reconstructive ankle surgery in the preseason while Young has battled nagging injuries throughout his Buckeye career.
Holtmann said that the team’s health will be the most important factor for its success.
“We’re gonna really need to be healthy. Seth and Justice are two guys that have to be healthy for us,” Holtmann said. “The big thing is going to be health.”
As the Buckeyes are a little over two months away from their planned season opener against Oakland University on Nov. 11, Holtmann said that they still need to iron out a preseason plan.
“We’re still being guided a little bit on what the calendar is going to look like. Normally we would have our calendar already set,” Holtmann said. “It’s a wait-and-see approach right now which has made things a little more fluid.”
Although the team is still unable to hold full team practices, Holtmann said that they have done on-the-court drills in smaller groups as well as have utilized the weight room four days a week.
Following the prolonged offseason, Holtmann has said that he and his players have gained a new respect for being able to work and have purpose and regiment in daily life.
“They would say the happiest they were throughout the entire pandemic was the seven weeks of summer school, trust me they wouldn’t always say that. But why? Because they had a purpose and regiment to their day,” Holtmann said.