Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann talks busy offseason on latest radio show


Monday marked the first day of the offseason for the Ohio State men’s basketball program. On Sunday afternoon, the No. 7 seed Buckeyes exited the NCAA Tournament with a second-round loss to No. 2 seed Villanova. After a 71-61 loss at PPG Paints Arena, Ohio State closed the 2021-22 season with a 20-12 overall record.

Now the Buckeyes are immediately jumping into what appears to be an active offseason. Assistant Coach Ryan Pedon is now Illinois State’s head coach, leading scorers EJ Liddell and Malaki Branham have NBA decisions to make, Judge Sueing and Seth Towns have a chance to return next season and Ohio State numbers to hit the transfer portal hard pending the arrival of a five-man recruiting class.

With all that, and with two Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16, Coach Chris Holtmann held his last weekly radio show of the season.

In case you couldn’t listen, here are the highlights.

EJ Liddell and Malaki Branham decisions top offseason to-do list

Although the Buckeyes have begun preparing for some of the potential results this offseason, they are awaiting official word from Liddell and Branham on their future plans.

That said, it’s been clear for some time that Liddell is tagged for the NBA.

“EJ is going to move forward,” Holtmann said. “He will do it at his own pace, but we certainly expect it to be the decision he gave all the indications for.”

Branham is now being projected as a first-round NBA draft pick, and conversations will take place with him with every player on the roster.

It’s gonna be a lot.

“Obviously Malaki will have to make a decision,” Holtmann said. “I will need to meet all of our current players, including Justice and Seth. We need to find a replacement for Ryan Pedon. All of these things are in the works. To say my next few months are going to be busy would be an understatement. They will be extremely busy until what we were finalizing our list.

“We will decide who we want to add in terms of the transfer portal.”

Kyle Young is doing well after leaving the game early

After missing three games with a concussion, fifth-year senior Kyle Young returned for the NCAA Tournament, started both games but left the Villanova game after accidental contact with Collin Gillespie.

Young is fine, but it’s unclear if he could have played in the Sweet 16 had Ohio State moved forward.

“Obviously we needed Kyle to close out the game to get over the top,” he said. “Most importantly, Kyle’s health is fine. It was obviously the call from the medical staff to keep him away. They had him run and do back sprints and get a feel for how he was doing. If there was any concern, they weren’t going to put it in there.

Last year, Young suffered his second concussion in less than a month when he was elbowed in the head by Purdue’s Trevion Williams. It was not this.

“We all know how great Trevion Williams is,” Holtmann said. “It wasn’t that at all. As he was running after the score he hit, I believe it was Gillespies shoulder. His cheek bumped into his shoulder. He didn’t feel it the same way he did against Trevion Williams. Could he have played next week? I don’t know.”

What is Chris Holtmann looking for in staff additions?

With Pedon’s departure, Holtmann said the current staff will see changes in its wake.

“Jake will be elevated to Ryan’s job,” he said. “He will also take over from Ryan. We will continue to build staff here in the weeks to come. There will be decisions about who we hire. Obviously, it’s a position that gets a lot of attention because of this place and the success we’ve had. We’ll find the right guy that fits.

Holtmann was asked what he looks for when hiring an assistant coach.

“Guys that fit the way we want to do things,” he said. “One of the things that Ryan and Jake and Tony (Skinn) and really all the staff, they have a great work ethic and it’s necessary. If you want to do this well, it takes a lot of time, you don’t You don’t have to be here all the time, but there is an element of time required in jobs like this. It consumes you in ways that other jobs might not. I want guys who appreciate what we’re trying to do, the culture we’ve had and established.

Buckeyes adjust to abrupt offseason glare

After playing well against Loyola Chicago in the first round and in streaks against Villanova, Holtmann said it was an emotional dressing room after the loss.

“It’s always tough when it ends,” Holtmann said. “I think our guys this week have really played as well as we have played for periods. It’s a bit of a different feeling. Last year was such an emotional ending. I think our guys felt good about the way they fought, especially in that game (against Villanova). There were many tears shed. They were certainly hoping to move on.

The atmosphere at PPG Paints Arena added to some of the emotions.

“When you play in that kind of environment and your kids feel that, it gives them a taste that they really want back,” Holtmann said. “The reality is what you want is a roster that’s been through this because it gives them a real desire to come back next year.”

Holtmann cited one player in particular who spoke to the team after the loss.

“A guy like Jimmy Sotos in there talking to his team telling them how much he loves and appreciates them,” Holtmann said. “We had a great group. That’s why we were able to overcome the greatest adversity I’ve encountered in 25 years of training in terms of injuries. We were able to do this because we really had a close group that really cared about each other.

Gene Brown returns to the starting lineup

With a mostly healthy roster heading into the NCAA Tournament, sophomore winger Gene Brown returned to the starting lineup for both games. His size and size allowed the Buckeyes to play with more defensive versatility against Loyola Chicago’s Lucas Williamson in particular.

“Their top scorer was a 6-4 guy and we didn’t think it would be smart to put Malaki on him right now because of some of the load he was going to have to carry offensively,” Holtmann said. “More than anything, it gave Malaki a chance to be a bit of himself. We made a lot of change too. Having Gene in the lineup allows you to change, and you can also change with Zed (Key). We weren’t able to get through with Joey (Brunk) as successfully, so we went with this more versatile formation of 6-6 to 6-8 guys.

‘True playmaker’ Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle highlight recruiting class

Five freshmen are signed for 2022, and Holtmann has gone through early scouting reports on each of them.

“It’s a phenomenal class,” he said. “It’s one of the best in the country. Bruce Thornton is an exceptional point guard and will be a very good player. He’s a big, strong, powerful, true playmaker. Roddy Gayle is a 6-4 guard who can really defend and has become our highest rated rookie right now. Felix Okpara is a 6-11 impact shot blocking center who can really do some things, a really good athlete. Bryce Sensabaugh is a really tough mismatch. I think he’s going to be the biggest mismatch we’ve ever coached. People won’t know how to protect it. Bowen Hardman is a state shooter.

Purdue, Michigan representing Big Ten in Sweet 16

Nine Big Ten teams have reached the NCAA Tournament, but only the Boilermakers and Wolverines are still playing.

“I thought we had a few teams that could definitely qualify for the second weekend,” Holtmann said. “It’s difficult to throw three or four (there). I thought Rutgers could have potentially made a run. Based on the season, the folks at Michigan were surprised to get a second weekend, but no one is surprised at the talent they have in this group. Most of it is seedlings. I don’t know if there are any generalizations you can make.

The Big Ten haven’t won a national championship since Michigan State in 2000.

“I think our league has been the best league in the country in terms of overall depth,” Holtmann said. “We have the most teams that can win a game or two. Do we have the most teams that could win a national championship? No, it’s probably another league. It could be the Big 12 or the SEC. I think our league has been the deepest and the numbers back it up.

Chris Holtmann meets Sister Jean after beating Loyola Chicago

After Ohio State defeated Loyola Chicago in the first round, Holtmann crossed paths with Sister Jean inside the arena and spoke to her briefly.

“She had no idea who I was, which was good,” he said. “Somebody said to him, ‘Hey, that’s the Ohio State coach. She’s 102 and she’s really into it. She is really sharp. She wore Air Force Ones in school colors. It was great.”

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