Chris Holtmann hasn’t failed to sign a transfer portal prospect in any single season of his Ohio State career, and 2023-24 is no different.
Over a monthlong period this spring, the Buckeyes earned commitments from three performers hailing from Power-5 conferences. Former Minnesota forward Jamison Battle announced his decision to spend his final year of college basketball in Columbus on April 6. Former Baylor guard and Cleveland native Dale Bonner followed suit less than two weeks later. This past Wednesday, former Penn State forward and Cincinnati native Evan Mahaffey rounded out Ohio State’s latest transfer portal haul.
While Battle is the only one of the three expected to make significant statistical contributions straight away as a potential go-to scorer and starter for the Buckeyes, Bonner adds depth and a veteran presence to a young Ohio State backcourt and Mahaffey has the potential to blossom over time with three years of eligibility remaining. But exactly how good the group is can only be evaluated once the new season is underway.
Before then, we’re taking a look back at the results of each of Holtmann’s previous transfer classes to gauge expectations for Battle, Bonner and Mahaffey’s careers in scarlet and gray.
Guard: Andrew Dakich
Holtmann brought in only one transfer in his first season as Ohio State head coach, and it was a player who spent his previous four years with archrival Michigan. Andrew Dakich took a redshirt year in 2016-17 and initially committed to play for Quinnipiac for his final season, but ultimately ended up in Columbus where he averaged three points in 19 minutes per game across 34 appearances and one start for the Buckeyes. Dakich never scored more than 11 points in a scarlet and gray uniform, but logged 28 minutes in Ohio State’s first-round NCAA Tournament win against South Dakota State before closing out his collegiate career.
Guard: Keyshawn Woods, CJ Walker
Ohio State added two guards to its roster in Holtmann’s second season, although only one was eligible to play in the 2018-19 season. CJ Walker had to sit out for the duration of the campaign after transferring in from Florida State, but Keyshawn Woods played in 35 games for the Buckeyes as a graduate transfer who had previously played at Charlotte and Wake Forest.
While Woods started the season mostly coming off the bench, his veteran savvy proved crucial for Ohio State late in the year as Woods started eight of the final nine games for the Buckeyes. Woods averaged 13 points per game in that stretch and tied his season-high with 19 as Ohio State’s second-leading scorer in a first-round NCAA Tournament win against Iowa State. Woods finished the season with an average of 8.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
Walker immediately stepped into a starting point guard role upon becoming eligible for the 2019-20 season, where he averaged 8.7 points, 3.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game for a 21-10 Buckeye team that saw its season cut short before the Big Ten Tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Walker dealt with a hand injury the following year and wound up starting in just 12 of his 27 appearances, but upped his production to 9.5 points and 4.4 assists while helping lead Ohio State to a spot in the Big Ten Tournament championship game and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Forward: Justice Sueing
Former California wing Justice Sueing came aboard ahead of the 2019-20 season, but sat out for a year as immediate transfer eligibility still had yet to be ratified by the NCAA. Sueing might have ended up missing most of the season anyway, as he suffered a foot injury in practice that required surgery in January 2020.
Sueing made his debut for the Buckeyes in 2020-21, a season in which he started all 31 games for the Buckeyes and averaged 10.7 points per game as the team’s third-leading scorer. His best performance may have come in the Big Ten Tournament championship game, where his season-high 22 points helped take Illinois to overtime before the Buckeyes eventually lost by a three-point margin.
By the end of the 2020-21 season, though, Sueing was clearly hampered by an abdominal injury that cost him nearly all of the following season. While he was considered healthy for most of the preseason, the issue resurfaced by the start of the year and Sueing wound up playing in just two games in 2021-22.
A healthy Sueing returned for Ohio State this past season, his sixth and final in college basketball, and the 6-foot-7 forward started all but three of the Buckeyes’ 35 games. Sueing’s performance was often inconsistent as the Buckeyes went 16-19 and missed the NCAA Tournament, but he finished the year as the team’s second-leading scorer (12.3 points per game).
Guard: Jimmy Sotos
Forward: Seth Towns
Ohio State scooped up former Bucknell guard Jimmy Sotos, Harvard forward Seth Towns and Utah State guard Abel Porter out of the transfer portal in 2020, but Porter’s Ohio State tenure never truly began as a medical condition ended his career before the season started.
Sotos was originally supposed to take a redshirt year in 2020-21, but wound up playing in 12 games – and even starting two – before his season came to an end with a shoulder injury. Sotos returned the following year to appear in 19 games, but only in a reserve role as he logged just 7.7 minutes per game and averaged 1.8 points.
Towns, a Columbus native and former Ivy League Player of the Year, missed the entirety of the previous two seasons before coming to Ohio State due to repeated knee injuries. Those kept him out of the Buckeyes’ first six games in 2020-21, but Towns carved out a small role with 10.8 minutes per game across 25 contests, during which he averaged 3.8 points per game. Towns scored a season-high 12 points in an overtime win over Purdue to keep Ohio State alive in its deep Big Ten Tournament run.
But the injury bug struck again the following offseason, as Towns underwent a procedure on his back that ended up costing him the entire 2021-22 season. Towns opted to step away from the program before the 2022-23 season, citing continued medical issues.
Once a Buckeye, Always a Buckeye pic.twitter.com/cKS6v0GPr1— Seth Towns (@219setty) September 4, 2022
Guard: Jamari Wheeler, Cedric Russell
Center: Joey Brunk
Holtmann stocked his roster with three college basketball veterans out of the transfer portal in 2021-22 as former Penn State guard Jamari Wheeler, Louisiana guard Cedric Russell and Indiana big man Joey Brunk all joined the program for their final year. However, none of the three made a particularly resounding splash in scarlet and gray.
Wheeler played the biggest role, starting 31 games for the Buckeyes and averaging a career-high 7.1 points per game on 45.8% shooting as Ohio State’s floor general. But Russell and Brunk saw less consistent opportunities on the floor.
Russell had flashes of success, scoring 12 points on four separate occasions and proving crucial to the Buckeyes’ upset win over top-ranked Duke, but finished the year averaging a career-low 4.2 points per game in just 12.9 minutes per night. It was a far cry from the success he enjoyed at Louisiana, where averaged 17.2 points per game the year prior.
Brunk didn’t score more than six points in a game until late in the year, when he exploded for 18 in a win over Michigan State as injuries to Zed Key and Kyle Young allowed him an opportunity to start in three consecutive games. By year’s end, though, Brunk averaged just 2.4 points and 1.6 rebounds in 7.6 minutes per game.
Ohio State won a game in the NCAA Tournament, but its experienced roster couldn’t help Holtmann get over the second-round hump in the Big Dance.
Guard: Sean McNeil, Isaac Likekele, Tanner Holden
Another promising batch of transfer additions embarked to Columbus ahead of this past season, and once again, results were largely mixed.
West Virginia transfer Sean McNeil brought a proven 3-point shooting pedigree over from the Big 12 and showed off his range at times in scarlet and gray as the most successful of Ohio State’s three transfers. McNeil averaged 9.7 points for the Buckeyes and started 26 of his 35 appearances, but was streaky from beyond the arc and finished the year 1-for-8 from the 3-point line in his final two games.
Likekele was a jack-of-all-trades as a multi-positional guard in four years at Oklahoma State, but posted the most modest stats of his college career with averages of 3.8 points, four rebounds and 2.8 assists per game at Ohio State. A family tragedy during the middle of the season may have disrupted Likekele’s rhythm as he missed three games in the process.
Some had high expectations for Holden, an Ohio native who averaged 20.1 points per game for Wright State the year prior, but the transition to the Big Ten proved difficult. Besides hitting a controversial game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in Ohio State’s conference opener against Rutgers, Holden never found consistent success with the Buckeyes and saw his role reduced dramatically in the latter half of the season. Despite entering Ohio State with two years of eligibility remaining, Holden won’t be back for another year as he opted to enter the transfer portal again this offseason.
A WALK-OFF 3 FOR @OhioStateHoops pic.twitter.com/fprzioLyeD— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 9, 2022
Three experienced transfers couldn’t help a young Buckeye roster from suffering its worst season in the Holtmann era and missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016-17.
Ohio State's transfer additions under Holtmann have often added depth and experience to round out the roster on a yearly basis. However, no Holtmann-era transfer has ever emerged as the true top dog on any team.
No such player has ever led the Buckeyes in scoring. In fact, only Sueing has ever even averaged double-digit scoring figures for an entire season, doing so in both 2020-21 and 2022-23. Even in his highest-scoring season, Sueing was only the Buckeyes' second-leading scorer.
Next season, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Battle could be Ohio State's top scorer, although the projected improvement of Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle from their freshman to sophomore seasons may negate that prospect.
In Mahaffey, the Buckeyes also have their least experienced transfer under Holtmann, having played just one previous season of college basketball. Since he has three years of eligibility remaining, the Ohio State coaching staff will have more opportunity than ever before to mold an incoming transfer.
As seen with Russell and Holden, mid-major transfers haven't always panned out upon transitioning to the Big Ten. This year, though, the Buckeyes are bringing in two players straight from their own conference and another who has experience playing for a Big 12 championship-winning team. So while it's unlikely all three will make earth-shattering contributions in 2023-24, Holtmann and company appear to be learning from previous portal misfires ahead of the new season.