Jake Diebler Choosing to Look At Modern-Day Transfer Portal Chaos As a Positive, Feels Ohio State Brought in Players Eager to Win

By Andy Anders on June 17, 2024 at 10:10 am
Sean Stewart
Jaylynn Nash – USA TODAY Sports

Adaptations are necessary for survival in the natural world.

Fail to adapt quickly to your environment and face extinction, that's the way it works out in the wilderness. The jungle of modern-day college sports is no different.

"I think the thing is you can't take things personally, you have to be able to move on quickly," Jake Diebler said last Monday. "This is The Ohio State University. There's a lot of really, really good players that want to be a part of this program and that's certainly a perk of being here, but adapt is a good way to put it. You have to be able to do it quickly."

Ohio State's roster underwent perhaps an unexpected level of mutation in the transfer portal this offseason, losing five players to the collegiate equivalent of free agency and gaining back four thus far.

Outlook is everything, however, and Diebler's outlook on those facts is about as upbeat as a song in the key of C major. He feels it's an opportunity to set his roster under construction after each year, and he and his coaching staff brought the hammer and nails this cycle.

"It's hard. The days of having a true understanding of what your roster is going to look like year to year, a year in advance, I think those days are mostly over. There may be certain years where you have a better feel for that than others," Diebler said. "I choose to look at it as a positive. It allows us the flexibility every offseason to be able to bring in the right pieces. The hard part in recruiting, specifically in the spring, is you're making decisions that are really, really important for your team in a short period of time."

The largest point of emphasis in Diebler's transfer additions was winning experience.

Both frontcourt commitments, Sean Stewart and Aaron Bradshaw, came from blueblood programs that made the NCAA Tournament once more in 2024, Duke and Kentucky. Micah Parrish played for the Big Dance's runner-up in 2023 at San Diego State then made another Sweet 16 this year. South Carolina went from 11-21 in Meechie Johnson Jr.'s first campaign to a 26-8 record and tourney appearance in 2024.

"All four of those guys were in the NCAA tournament and won at a certain level last year," Diebler said. "So that was something I was really excited about, their experience. Micah played in the national championship game two years ago and the Sweet 16 (this year) and Meechie's helped lead South Carolina to the best season they've had in a long time. Aaron and Sean, for being young players, to get NCAA Tournament experience is really valuable. So I love that component of it too."

Johnson is a player who hails from Ohio and spent his first two years of college a Ohio State before transferring out to South Carolina. Back now as a more mature player and person, he's motivated to get the Buckeyes to see the same turnaround the Gamecocks did while he was in Columbia.

"We're going to constantly really, really dig deep to find the right guys. And I feel like we've done it," Diebler said. "I feel like we've got guys who care about winning. Meechie Johnson wants to win at Ohio State. That's a really, really important thing. That's probably the biggest reason he decided to come back. I love that. That's so valuable for us."

“Meechie Johnson wants to win at Ohio State. That's a really, really important thing.”– Jake Diebler

Versatility was another major component. Parrish in particular fits that mold as a wing who has shot right around 35% from three most of his career and also picked up 1.9 assists with 1.2 steals to go with 9.3 points per game last season.

Stewart and Bradshaw are further examples of long, athletic forwards who can guard multiple positions on the defensive end of the floor while providing options in transition.

Neither of those players saw the court very much for their respective teams this past season with Stewart playing 8.3 minutes per game and Bradshaw 13.7. Both are also five-star prospects entering year two, however, and Diebler brought them in because he believes in that potential.

"Both of those guys work really hard and that's why I'm confident they're going to be able to make the jump," Diebler said. "But I also love the fact that we have a veteran backcourt. I think that's an important component too that will help them transition for them, going from maybe a more limited role to a significantly increased role. They're very talented players. Two McDonald's All-Americans on our roster is certainly a great thing for us, but they don't have to do it by themselves."

While a coaching change will always play a part in transfer attrition, Diebler sees this offseason as closer to the model going forward.

"I anticipate us always having a balance of bringing in high school players and complementing the roster with transfers, and certainly impactful transfers," Diebler said. "It's hard for me to see a time right now, the way the landscape is today, of the days of having five-man freshman classes. You may have some outlier years where that's necessary, but I think more importantly, you're constantly evaluating and trying to project the impact guys can have that year."

Diebler added that development will still be a vital part of Ohio State's program going forward amid some of the portal chaos, even the growth that players experience during a given season.

The Buckeyes still have one more scholarship available for the 2024-25 season, one that is likely to be used on further frontcourt depth given the losses of Zed Key, Felix Okpara and Jamison Battle. CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein reported this weekend that the Buckeyes are in the mix for former St. John's forward Glenn Taylor Jr.

Diebler didn't have too much to add last week, but it seems there's a plan.

"The plans are to fill it. I can't get into too much detail on that right now," Diebler said. "But yeah, the plans are, we're trying to fill that and being really intentional about that."

If nothing else, the Buckeyes have brought in enough talented pieces through the portal to generate competition for playing time in 2024. Clichés are clichés for a reason, and Diebler will hope that competition breeds success in his first full season.

"We need talented players here at Ohio State, and the more talented pieces you have, I think the higher the ceiling of the team," Diebler said. "Now, certainly, role definition and chemistry and all of those things are going to be really, really important factors. But I love that there's a healthy competition going into this season based on the way our roster's been able to shape up.

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