Chris Holtmann Throws Support Behind DJ Carton While Thanking Understanding Fans, Rebuking Criticisms Of Decision, Defending Ohio State

By Colin Hass-Hill on February 1, 2020 at 4:44 pm
Chris Holtmann and DJ Carton

Chris Holtmann didn’t want to talk about the win, at least not initially. His mind was elsewhere.

Surely having spent the better part of the past 48 hours dealing with and thinking about DJ Carton’s decision to temporarily step away from the team to improve his mental health, Holtmann had a non-basketball related item to discuss when he walked into a room filled with reporters in the bowels of the Schottenstein Center.

Forty minutes beforehand, his team had beaten Indiana, marking the first time the Buckeyes picked up consecutive wins since mid-December. But when he took a step onto the podium and sat down at a table with audio recorders piled onto it and cameras pointed at his face, Holtmann had an itinerary of topics he wanted to discuss, none of which had anything to do with the result of Saturday’s game.

Support Carton. Thank the supportive fans. Rebuke those criticizing him. Defend the program and university.

He made those remarks with visceral intention and purpose behind his words.

“I want to begin here by thanking our fans for their support of DJ in his pursuit of mental health, overall health,” Holtmann said to open his postgame press conference. “The wide, vast majority of our fans I know are so unbelievably supportive of him in that, and I just want to thank our fan base for that. For the rare few that tweeted at me this is somehow the reflection of our program, reflection on me personally: Guilty, guilty. So be it. You can take your antiquated thinking somewhere else. 

“There is nothing, nothing more important in our program than our players' physical, mental health and overall growth. Nothing. And that will always be the case. There's not a game, there's nothing. And if it's somehow a reflection, I think we all know that's wrong. I really appreciate the overall kind of overwhelming support for a young man in his pursuit of this, and I know he does too.”

“Our staff here, our medical staff, this university is comprehensive in its care of our players physical and mental. Comprehensive. I've never seen anything like it. I think we're on the cutting edge in a lot of ways in terms of our staffing, our willingness to deal with our players' issues. And it's a day and age where we see this more and more, particularly in this age group and particularly with student-athletes.”

Then he turned his focus to talk about what had transpired between noon and 2 p.m. on his team’s home court. That, he deemed, was a secondary topic. A player’s mental health, as Holtmann made as clearly as he could after the victory, should always supersede what happens on a basketball court.

To him, getting rid of any stigma surrounding the mental health of college athletes is an ongoing process. He offered up a simple answer when asked how he deals with it within Ohio State’s locker room: “We talk about it.”

Holtmann regularly meets with a therapist, which he has told his players and told reporters on Saturday. He said he had a close friend and former co-worker battle mental health issues in the past, noting that experience “helped inform” some of his decisions with players.

“It's real-life stuff,” Holtmann said. “And I think that's the only way to eliminate any type of stigma. That's it. That's it. It's real-life stuff. And we're about the real-life stuff with our players.”

It doesn’t get much more real than what Carton’s going through right now.

Neither Carton nor Holtmann have divulged anything about the situation further than using the blanket term of “mental health” to describe the struggles, but they’re serious enough that both parties believed a leave of absence to be the correct decision. The issues didn’t come suddenly, either. 

In his statement released on Thursday, Carton said he has “been struggling with mental health issues for a couple years.” Holtmann said that while it was “sudden,” Carton leaving the team didn’t come as a “great surprise” because he had been open with his teammates about what he’s going through.

“I think the fact that he had played so well in recent stretches perhaps made people wonder, 'Why now?'” Holtmann said. “Listen, he's a 19-year-old young man going through all the things that come with being a highly recruited young man and expectations and also the normal struggles that you and I have who are not in our players' position. The day-to-day struggles that we go through are real. These things are real.”

Carton told his teammates of his choice to temporarily step away from the team before Ohio State’s practice on Thursday, 

“Thought he was very honest with them,” Holtmann said. “They embraced him, both literally and figuratively, and we did as a group and we moved on to practice on Thursday.”

Kaleb Wesson added: “Everybody's reaching out to DJ right now, seeing how he's doing and let him know that we respect his decision, that we love him whatever he does.”

Holtmann said he doesn't have a timeline for Carton’s return to the team, saying it’s too early for him to comment on that.

Moving forward, he finds himself in what he called “uncharted territory.” Therefore, he says he plans to lean both on the medical staff and athletic director Gene Smith, whom he called before anybody else when Carton made his decision to remove himself from the team for now. 

“He is so willing (to help),” Holtmann said. “‘How can we help this young man?’ That was Gene Smith's first response. 'How can we help this young man?' And that's been his case all year.”

As for anyone faulting Carton or the program? Holtmann clearly had no time for those thoughts.

Criticism of Carton's decision, in Holtmann's mind, was “idiotic thinking.” He said he both “fully supported” it and will continue to do what he can to aid Carton.

“We're always going to be about the player,” Holtmann said as his press conference wrapped up. “Bottom line. We're always going to be about the player. That's our responsibility.”

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