Jake Diebler Excited by Diverse Experiences, Winning Backgrounds in First-Ever Assistant Coaching Staff

By Andy Anders on June 13, 2024 at 11:35 am
Joel Justus
Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports

There’s often plenty of sunshine-pumping to be done in the offseason about a given sports team, especially one that brings in a new head coach after a disappointing handful of seasons.

Jake Diebler’s taken real steps to feed the hype for what the Ohio State basketball program could look like under his guidance, namely the addition of five-star talents and established veterans in the transfer portal.

More subtly, Diebler’s complete overhaul of the Buckeyes’ assistant coaching staff has brought a fresh infusion of juice into the team. What’s been assembled is a diverse array of experience containing plenty of winning pedigree.

“I'm really, really excited. I can't even tell you how excited I am about this staff. There's already a natural chemistry that's been forming and it's been good to see,” Diebler said on Monday.

Perhaps no coach hired by Diebler has had a more eye-popping run of recent experience than newly-minted associate head coach Joel Justus.

Following a seven-year stint under John Calipari at Kentucky, Justus spent a year at Arizona State before his last two years were spent with NC State. The Wolfpack went on a Cinderella run to the Final Four as an 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament this year. In 2022-23, Justus helped mold the team’s offense to No. 2 in scoring in the ACC with 77.7 points per game.

Justus is also a proven recruiter, helping acquire a multitude of stars while with the Wildcats like Bam Adebayo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Immanuel Quickley. He made both ESPN and The Athletic’s 40 under 40 lists in 2020.

“Joel is someone I have known for a while and I’m excited to have him join our staff,” Diebler said in a statement when Justus was hired in April. “He is a well-rounded coach with great experience in the development and recruiting spaces, while winning everywhere he’s been. His vision for building a program and developing a winning culture is something I was looking for and I can’t wait for him to get started.”

No one on the new staff has more experience overall than Dave Dickerson, however.

Dickerson comes into Columbus after a six-year stint as head coach of South Carolina Upstate, where he went a total of 65-117. While not all went according to plan with the Spartans, Dickerson's previous job was as an assistant right back at Ohio State, coaching for seven campaigns under Thad Matta from 2010 through 2017. That includes the 2011-12 squad that is the last to both win a Big Ten regular season title and reach the Final Four. Dickerson was also on staff in 2013 for the Buckeyes’ last Big Ten Tournament title.

“Dave was someone I knew right away that I would be fortunate to have as a part of our staff,” Diebler said. “He and I had a pre-existing relationship, and it's one to which he can coach me a little bit too, at times, if I need it. So I'm excited about that. But what he's seen throughout his career I think is really, really important for us and he can lean back on different experiences he's had, and that can certainly serve our players well, but also our staff well.”

"He and I had a pre-existing relationship, and it's one to which he can coach me a little bit too, at times, if I need it. So I'm excited about that."– Jake Diebler on what Dave Dickerson brings to Ohio State

Luke Simons spent two seasons as director of basketball operations for 21-year Baylor head coach and 2021 national champion Scott Drew, brother of Bryce Drew, who Diebler and Simons both coached under previously at Vanderbilt. Simons was the Commodores’ director of scouting, developing his ability to evaluate talent.

Jamall Walker coached the last four campaigns at Grand Canyon under Bryce Drew, an outfit that reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history during Drew and Walker’s first year in 2020-21 then went an eye-popping 30-5 and picked up the school's first win in the Big Dance against Saint Mary’s.

“Jamall is coming off arguably – I guess there isn't much arguing – the best three-year stretch in the history of the school and certainly his experience in the Big Ten was important,” Diebler said.

That leaves Talor Battle as the fifth and final assistant coaching hire for Diebler. Some might recognize Battle’s name if they followed Big Ten basketball from 2007 through 2011 when he racked up 2,213 points to become Penn State’s all-time leading scorer. His coaching career got off the ground with the Nittany Lions in 2020-21 after a seven-year stint playing professionally in Europe.

Logging the last three years at Northwestern, Battle helped develop star guards like Boo Buie and Chase Audige while the Wildcats reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament in his final two seasons. 

“He hasn't been an assistant for an extended period of time, but man was he a good player in this league,” Diebler said. “And he's won in this league as an assistant coach, which I think is really important. In college basketball today, there's a relatability factor that's critical and I think him still being able to get out on the court and spar with guys a little bit will be valuable.”

Former Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann oversaw the offense during his time running the program while entrusting someone else on staff to be the defensive coordinator. While Diebler is still figuring out the best way to align his assistants role-wise, he’s an offensive mind and envisions having a hand in things on that end in a similar way.

“I think also making sure that I create room for our staff to utilize their strengths will be important,” Diebler said. “The structure will be somewhat similar (to how it was under Holtmann). There will be some differences and changes. A lot of it is to fit my strengths and weaknesses too. I want to still be on the court. I want to still be a part of skill development. That's important to me.”

"I can't even tell you how excited I am about this staff."– Jake Diebler

The contrast between a young up-and-comer like Battle and a sage veteran like Dickerson is stark, but it speaks to the well-roundedness Diebler sought when building his coaching pool.

“Putting a staff together is much like building a team,” Diebler said. “You're looking for strengths, weaknesses, how they complement each other – chemistry is really, really important.”

Above all else, winning and development were the two factors that Diebler sought and believes he acquired. In five months, he and his staff with get the chance to prove their acumen on the court. 

“I love the guys that we've been able to bring in and when I was going through the hiring process, there were a couple things that I was trying to stay committed to making decisions based upon,” Diebler said. “Do I think it's helping us move toward winning a championship? And then, are these guys committed to helping young men grow? Which is something I'm really passionate about. Like, that had to be aligned for this to work.”

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