Versatile Wings and Potential Impact Freshmen Give Jake Diebler Confidence in Ohio State’s Backcourt Depth Despite Taison Chatman Injury

By Andy Anders on June 21, 2024 at 11:35 am
Jake Diebler

June is never a time to hit the panic button for any college basketball team, but there remained an unmistakable tone of confidence in Jake Diebler’s voice when he talked about Ohio State’s outlook at guard following a season-ending injury to a key depth piece.

"Going into the season, I felt like depth was a real strength for us at the guard position and Taison (Chatman) had shown signs of being able to take a jump," Diebler said on Thursday. "I still think that depth is a strength for us, I don't think this changes that. How great that depth is has certainly been impacted. ... But listen, I feel really good about who we have (at guard)."

Chatman tore the ACL in his left knee during a recent summer workout, leaving the Buckeyes with three true guards remaining for their 2024-25 campaign.

With the team’s starting tandem of Meechie Johnson Jr. and Bruce Thornton still intact alongside expected key contributions from incoming freshman guard Juni Mobley and wings Evan Mahaffey and Micah Parrish, Diebler remains assured of what’s in the Buckeyes’ backcourt.

“I'm so excited about what our backcourt can be,” Diebler said. “It's going to help drive this team all season long.”

While Chatman only played an average of 4.2 minutes in 17 games in 2023-24, there were bigger plans ahead for the highest-rated recruit in Ohio State’s 2023 class. A meniscus injury held him out the first few games of the season and slowed his development process.

Chatman collected six assists alongside exactly 17 points in his 17 appearances last year, seeing his minutes trickle up to five per game after Diebler took over for Chris Holtmann. All the talk surrounding him this offseason was that steps were taken toward the potential of his No. 39 overall ranking as a recruit, but now those hopes will have to be shelved for a season.

“First and foremost, your heart breaks for him because he didn't get to have the type of year last year that he wanted, that certainly we wanted for him,” Diebler said. “There's some encouraging stuff from the standpoint that this injury, although same knee, was not related to what he had gone through before. I'm no doctor certainly, but there were no complications from that. This was just a random basketball injury, so I think that speaks well to what recovery for him can look like. Although it'll be a long one, it should be a good one.”

Chatman’s teammates echoed the sentiment that he was on a skyward trajectory for 2024-25. Roles had not been defined yet, per Diebler, but Chatman could very well have been the first guard off the bench if healthy this winter.

“Losing a guy like Taison hurts because we knew how much he was gonna help us, our team, how much better he’s gotten,” Johnson said. “We wanted that for him. So it sucks to see a guy like that deal with an injury. I dealt with an ACL in high school. So, I know he'll recover fine.”

Chatman underwent successful surgery shortly after his injury and will begin the rehab process in earnest. As Ohio State supports him through that journey, Chatman got a chance to speak with former Buckeye forward E.J. Liddell, who currently plays for the New Orleans Pelicans and missed his entire first NBA season with an ACL tear of his own.

“Some of it's just time, being around him, making sure he's around the program consistently,” Diebler said. “He's going to be rehabbing and doing all that. But a great thing happened with our vets being in town, E.J. Liddell got to speak to him. And so, I think that was really powerful.”

While Chatman’s absence gives the Buckeyes’ roster of guards a paper-thin appearance at first glance, it’s Parrish and Mahaffey who are the key to deepening the rotation alongside Mobley. Parrish showed a lot of versatility with San Diego State last year, finishing second on the Aztecs in assists (1.9 per game) and third in steals (1.3). He got plenty of time to distribute and handle the ball.

Mahaffey was entrusted with the basketball in key situations, including plenty of press breaks, during his first season in Columbus last campaign. He picked up 1.7 assists per game of his own.

“I think I've been pretty open about this, I want to play more ball handlers. I think that'll help us play faster,” Diebler said. “Evan can certainly do some of that. We had really big plans for Micah from the moment we started recruiting him, this doesn't impact those plans. They were big from the beginning.”

“I'm so excited about what our backcourt can be. It's going to help drive this team all season long.”– Jake Diebler

Freshman wing Colin White and sophomore forward Devin Royal are other players Diebler feels could provide some dribbling and playmaking assistance.

“(It will) create some more opportunity for guys like Juni,” Diebler said. “I'd add Colin White to that list; could open up some opportunity. And then with Evan and Devin, and I've told them this, I've challenged them with expanding their game this offseason to be able to do some more of those things on the perimeter. I guess by committee, yeah, it'll be part of it. But I’m not concerned about it, some guys are just gonna have to step up a little bit more.”

There is still the possibility of adding depth at guard. Ohio State still has one scholarship left it can use on a transfer.

The plan before Chatman’s injury was to spend that final scholarship on a depth piece at center. That might still be Diebler’s design, but the Buckeyes would be in a precarious position should another guard go down, so the option to pivot remains.

“I think we're looking at all options, and one of them is sitting tight (at guard), too. I think we're evaluating that,” Diebler said. “We have a really good thing going right now. I don't want to rush into something. But we're evaluating that, certainly.”

If Diebler ultimately sticks with the current assortment of backcourt pieces Ohio State possesses, it will be the physical manifestation of the confidence he spoke with on Thursday.

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