There are plenty of positive opportunities Chris Holtmann sees in Ohio State’s exhibition game against Dayton on Sunday.
Whether it’s seeing how his team holds up against the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic 10 title, getting road experience early or benefitting a charitable cause, the coach expects to see returns on the investment made by the Buckeyes when they take on the Flyers.
“Any time you’re going into this, you only look at it as a coach as a really positive thing because you get all of this immediate feedback that you can take back,” Holtmann said. “In some cases, if a guy is struggling, you might leave him in there a little bit longer just for him to experience and work through that a little bit.”
The game recently picked up television partners as well, with Bally Sports Ohio and ESPN+ both set to broadcast the scrimmage.
Dayton head coach Anthony Grant has a personal connection with Sunday’s charitable cause, which is to raise money to support adolescent and young adult mental health.
He and his wife Christina lost their daughter, Jay Grant, to suicide in May 2022. She was only 20 years old.
Shortly following that tragedy, the couple released a statement saying that they planned to “advocate for more comprehensive mental health care and to do all we can to increase awareness around these issues.”
Grant and the Dayton athletics department hosted an event titled “The Spotlight, to Shine a Light on Mental Health” on Thursday before the charity exhibition game on Sunday. The coach spoke about his daughter’s death publicly for the first time in May of this year during an interview for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Medical & Health Symposium.
“We really jumped in with two feet because I think it’s a great opportunity to raise money, to raise awareness, to also hopefully give Anthony and his family some healing in the midst of this,” Holtmann said.
It’s a cause that’s been near and dear to the Ohio State athletics department. Holtmann stated that athletic director Gene Smith and his staff were “ahead of the curve” in terms of getting student-athletes the resources they needed to be at their best mentally and sparking conversation in that area.
On the football side of things, Ryan Day also lost a family member to suicide, his father when Day was just 8 years old. Ryan and his wife Christina – or “Nina” – have started multiple charitable foundations for the mental health of young people. That includes both the Christina and Ryan Day Fund for Pediatric and Adolescent Mental Wellness founded through Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a $1 million contribution from the Day family to start the Nina and Ryan Day Resilience Fund for mental health research and treatment at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine.
Holtmann has been an outspoken advocate for the mental health of his players throughout his coaching career. In February 2020, he defended then-Buckeyes point guard D.J. Carton’s decision to miss time while dealing with his own mental struggles.
“As far as a head coach’s responsibility and a staff’s responsibility, I think it’s important to have open dialogue about what it looks like, what mental health looks like and what taking care of yourself looks like,” Holtmann said Tuesday. “To normalize this whole process of young people going through struggles that they go through.”
The stigma surrounding mental health is something that Holtmann’s been glad to see dissipate over the years as resources continue becoming more and more available to young athletes and young people alike.
“I can’t imagine going in to my coach and asking if I could see a therapist. That’s how far we’ve come,” Holtmann said. “I just couldn’t imagine doing it. It just wasn’t common. In some ways – and I never got this impression from him, as many of you know, I was very close to him, he’s since passed – but it was just not normalized in any way. I think that it’s come a really long way.”
On the basketball side of things, Dayton presents an established program for the Buckeyes to test their 2023-24 squad against. The Flyers have finished with a winning record every year since 2018-19, and while they haven’t made an NCAA Tournament in that time, they were 29-2 and ranked No. 3 in the country before COVID-19 shut down the 2019-20 season.
Junior forward DaRon Holmes II returns as Dayton’s biggest star from a year ago, when he picked up a team-high 18.4 points per game and added 8.1 rebounds. Holmes’ 1.9 blocks per game also paced the entire Atlantic 10.
Guard Malachi Smith, who averaged a team-high 5.6 assists per contest a year ago though he missed a large chunk of the season with injury, will run the show from the backcourt.
“It’s an opportunity for us to see how we perform against a really good team, a team that’s expected to win their league and be an NCAA Tournament team,” Holtmann said. “I think that gives you great feedback.”
“I can’t imagine going in to my coach and asking if I could see a therapist. That’s how far we’ve come.”– Chris Holtmann on mental health
Another test that Holtmann is excited to face is the atmosphere that a sold-out crowd will bring in University of Dayton Arena. Holtmann said the Flyers’ fanbase has been one of college basketball’s best “for decades.”
“I really think it’s great, because that will be an environment that mimics what a Big Ten road environment will look like,” Holtmann said. “And it’s early. It’s October, you’re throwing your group into that. I think the reality is having some guys that have been through some high-level environments, road environments, having those guys returning that are going to play important roles for us really helps.”
Holtmann expects a more experimental approach to Sunday’s game, with the result being far less important than the continued development of his team.
“The game will be very much an exhibition game,” Holtmann said. “We’ll play different rotations, different lineups. In football vernacular, it will have a little bit of a spring game feel in terms of trying different things, giving different looks, playing different rotations as we continue to tinker and prepare for our first game against Oakland.”
Ohio State and Dayton tip off at 6 p.m. on Bally Sports Ohio and ESPN+.