Chris Holtmann’s had two months to mold his revamped roster this offseason. Now it will be put to the test for the first time.
The Ohio State men’s basketball team travels to the Bahamas to take on the Egyptian and Puerto Rican national teams as part its summer trip this week, and while the games are only exhibition matches, they’ll be of particular importance for a group with as many question marks as the Buckeyes.
Not all of them will be answered overnight, as Ohio State’s eight new scholarship players will need plenty more time to properly mesh before the official start of the season in November. But for Holtmann and the Buckeye coaching staff, the upcoming contests could say a lot about both the unit’s potential and progress thus far.
“We're not in regular season mode yet. It's going to be a rotation that's going to be a little more full than it typically is,” Holtmann said at a press conference before practice Monday. “And we're going to look at a bunch of different combinations. So I think we think we're playing two good teams, we're excited about that. We hope we can come out of this with a group that's closer and has some time spent together and some fun, and that we learn something about our guys.”
With five first-year players and three transfer portal additions coming aboard the Buckeye roster this offseason, the trip gives each of them a chance to see live-game action in scarlet and gray for the first time. It also allows Holtmann to evaluate how each player reacts to competition outside of their own teammates in the confines of the practice gym at the Schottenstein Center.
Due to the specific parameters under which he’s seen his team perform since starting summer workouts at the beginning of June, Holtmann said it’s still too soon to gauge how much of a challenge the transition to this level of college basketball will be for his new players.
But Holtmann certainly isn’t under the impression that his team won’t go through growing pains, whether in the Bahamas or when the season begins officially. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told Eleven Warriors last week he’s discussed the potential struggles the team might have at times due to its youth, saying “you just got to play them and take the bruises that you'll take because they're young and inexperienced.”
“I think it's it's too early to tell on that. I botched a few names, that's for sure. But outside of that, I think it's too early to tell,” Holtmann said. “We'll know more once we get to – I think we'll learn a little bit through some of the game reps we get here. I think we'll see some of that inexperience. But as far as what that transition is fully going to look like, I'm not sure we'll fully know until we get to November games.”
The inexperience Holtmann and Smith mentioned may be why the exhibition contests won’t be televised or available to stream for Buckeye fans, and it’s also why the Ohio State coach doesn’t seem too concerned about the outcome of the games in general.
“I had a coach tell me, ‘I want to play two teams that we're definitely going to beat so our team has great confidence.’ I'm not concerned about that.”– Chris Holtmann
While other high-profile programs have a more selective process in hand-picking their offseason opponents in this type of circumstance, Holtmann said he sought out the toughest competition possible.
“I talked to a couple different coaches and they talked about wanting to play a couple different teams and for us, we said, ‘Hey, just give us the best teams that you have there,’” Holtmann said. “So we believe the Egyptian national team and the Puerto Rican national team will both be really good, really good teams and good measures.
“Coaches determine, they can script who they play … I had a coach tell me, ‘I want to play two teams that we're definitely going to beat so our team has great confidence.’ I'm not concerned about that. We'll just play who we play and go from there.”
Outside of the exhibition matchups themselves, Holtmann said the practice time the team is allotted for a trip like this may be the most important aspect of the entire venture in general, as far as basketball is concerned. With practice sessions limited in the summer, Holtmann wants to make the most of them.
They may not be quite as intense as a typical midseason practice at the Schott, but Holtmann said it will still be a step up from what most players have been doing on a regular basis this summer.
“It's a different tempo and overall different pace, different intensity. But it's still a lot for guys,” Holtmann said. “You're asking guys to go for an hour-and-45-minute practice when that's really not what they've done since late March. So we tried to tailor it and make sure that (strength and conditioning coach Quadrian Banks) had them ready to be able to do an hour-and-a-half, hour-and-45-minute practice, but the tempo and the intensity is different.”
The Buckeyes are still trying to build camaraderie off the court too, given all the new arrivals, and the chance to bond is one more benefit for Ohio State in traveling outside of the country together.
“It's great for your guys to be able to, you know, there's some guys that have not ever traveled outside the country. So to have a chance to go do this, it's going to be fun,” Holtmann said. “And I think we're still trying to get to know each other a little bit here too.”