Even though Ohio State’s season came to a close on Sunday, time to relax will be hard to come by for Chris Holtmann over the next couple months.
The Buckeyes’ head coach has too many moving parts to manage between losing two assistant coaches from his staff, parsing which players with remaining eligibility will return to the program and deciding how many transfer portal additions to add ahead of next season. Each of those issues will need to be addressed before Holtmann has a chance to take a deep breath over the offseason.
“To say my next few months are gonna be busy would be an understatement,” Holtmann said Monday on 97.1 The Fan. “They’re gonna be extremely, extremely busy until we get our roster finalized and our staffing. … Obviously got a lot in front of us right now with the offseason. I think you’re gonna see this every year with offseasons, just there’s a lot – in particular with this offseason – a lot of things to figure out. And we’ll get there.”
Holtmann has known well in advance of the conclusion of the season that he’d need to replace his highest-ranking and longest-tenured assistant this offseason, as Ryan Pedon accepted a head coaching vacancy with Illinois State at the start of March. But there’ll be a second opening on Holtmann’s staff as well, as Tony Skinn – who came aboard just last May – is expected to rejoin former head coach Kevin Willard at Maryland.
Part of that equation will be solved by increasing the responsibilities of Jake Diebler, who has now spent three full seasons on Holtmann’s staff with the Buckeyes. Beyond that, there are plenty of question marks as to how Holtmann will fill the opening positions next to him on the Buckeye sideline.
“Jake will be elevated to Ryan’s position. He will also take the offense over from Ryan, and then we’ll continue to construct the staff here in the coming weeks,” Holtmann said. “There’ll be decisions on guys we’re bringing in and who we’re hiring. Obviously it’s a position that’s garnered a lot of attention just because of this place and the success we’ve had, and we’ll find the right guy that fits.”
For new prospective Ohio State assistants, Holtmann said work ethic is a top priority, with well-roundedness and versatility also being foremost factors in what makes a good candidate for his staff in Columbus.
“One of the things Ryan and Jake and Tony and really everybody on staff, down to our support staff, is they have a tremendous, tremendous work ethic. And that is required,” Holtmann said. “I think if you’re gonna do this well, it requires a lot of time. You don’t have to be here all the time, but there is an element of time required in jobs like this, and it does consume you in a way that maybe other jobs may not. So there’s an expectation of that.
“Also, I want guys that appreciate what we're trying to do, the culture that we have and we’ve established. I really appreciate guys that are well-rounded in coaching, that can recruit at a really high level, that’s gonna be important, but also are good coaches and have learned the game and can develop relationships with players.”
But the personnel problems facing the Buckeye roster may be even more pressing. Ohio State’s two top players from this past season, E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham, could both be first-round picks in the NBA draft. For Liddell, the decision to go pro is all but official, but Branham’s future remains up in the air after a stellar freshman season.
“Obviously E.J.’s gonna move forward. He’ll do it in his own timing, but certainly we would expect that to be his decision that he’s given every indication of,” Holtmann said. “But we’ll let him kind of officially make that decision. Obviously Malaki will have a decision that he needs to make.”
Beyond the top players on the Buckeye roster, Holtmann will have plenty more to manage with several of the seniors that could still be back if they so choose. Already a sixth-year senior this past year, Seth Towns didn’t play at all as he recovered from a herniated disc in his back that required operation in the fall. Justice Sueing, a fifth-year senior in 2021-22, played in just two games due to an abdominal injury.
Holtmann has said multiple times this year that he’d be happy to have both players back next year, but that is no guarantee. Buckeye senior captain Justin Ahrens still has another year of eligibility as well, and after a disappointing fourth year, he may look to cash it in next season.
“I’ll need to meet with all of our current players, including Justice and Seth,” Holtmann said. “We need to find a replacement for Ryan Pedon. But all those things have already been in the works, so we’ve already got a start on that.”
Pulling veteran players from the transfer portal has been a calling card for Holtmann during his Ohio State tenure, and there’s no doubt that he’ll look to do so again this offseason. The Buckeye staff has already reached out to Princeton transfer guard Jaelin Llewellyn and North Dakota State's Sam Griesel, and are sure to continue exploring their options as the college basketball season nears its end.
Buckeyes have reached out to Princeton transfer guard Jaelin Llewellyn, a first-team All-Ivy League performer this season. https://t.co/xSVsRbJ3md— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) March 15, 2022
Another transfer guard that has heard from Ohio State recently, North Dakota State's Sam Griesel averaged 14.3 ppg 6.6 rpg and 3.4 apg this past season. https://t.co/WSc7a2D1ol— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) March 16, 2022
While the success of coaches and players that may be departing for bigger opportunities is a positive for the Buckeye program, it doesn’t make things easier on Ohio State’s head coach. But many of the issues facing Holtmann aren’t brand new ones, even if this offseason will require a bit more problem-solving than usual.
“Again, I would want nothing more for Ryan than for him to get a head coaching job, so these are good problems to have,” Holtmann said. “We’ll decide who we want to add in terms of transfer portal, and obviously can’t wait to get our freshman class in here.”