If you ever take the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, a roughly 270-mile adventure, you will feel as if you will never reach the destination. Literally, once you get out of the City of Angels, you will run into (open) desert freeway with a handful of small little towns sprinkled throughout the tumbleweed and Joshua tree-laden land.
In a way, that tiring drive from a city of bright lights to another city of even brighter lights can describe the way that Ohio State basketball is going. With the move from Thad Matta (who marched two squads to the Final Four) to Chris Holtmann, the destination (success) is clear in the minds of the fans and power brokers of OSU- however, getting there is going to be the tricky part.
Like the desert, the recruiting world in July isn’t really stocked with talent looking to find a new home. Or let me rephrase: Talent looking to stay in Columbus. Freshman Braxton Beverly and redshirt freshman Derek Funderburk decommitted from the OSU basketball program, leaving Holtmann with eight (yes, eight) scholarship student-athletes heading into the season.
While coaching changes can sometimes create roster uncertainty, the fact that there has been a constant stream of departures from the program over the past couple years is alarming. The whole 2015 recruiting class, one that included Daniel Giddens, Austin Grandstaff, JaQuan Lyle, Mickey Mitchell and A.J. Harris, is gone. Lyle quit the basketball team back in April, and the others from the 2015 class all transferred out. All of this happening with Matta at the helm of the program.
Now, albeit not on the same scale as what Matta endured, Holtmann has watched two players leave the program–in addition to seeing a 2018 recruit decommit. No matter how you look at this, it’s weird; this kind of stuff doesn’t happen to Ohio State. Last season, we all witnessed what happens when your programs suffers from multiple transfers. One has to wonder if, even with a new coach, the upcoming season is going to be as dysfunctional as the last.
Holtmann has his work cut out for him. I’ve already come to terms that this year is going to be a work in progress, and it seems that leveling the program and rebuilding from scratch will be the best option for Holtmann to have the most success. However, you can’t rebuild collegiate basketball squads like you can rebuild a house. This process is going to take some time– so don’t be upset if the Buckeyes barely squeak into the NIT for the next season or two.
Getting a solid recruiting class or two would be a big step for Holtmann to take in bringing Buckeye basketball out of the bottom of the Big Ten conference standings. The other big steps rest in changing the culture of the program. The process of OSU basketball going from Final Four contender to missing the NIT didn’t happen overnight. Eradicating that feeling of complacency should be near the top of Holtmann’s list.
Like the trip from LA to Vegas, the destination has already been determined. You will spend time getting from point A to point B, get bored of watching desert land, and become slightly agitated from the lost time of sitting in LA traffic. (Whether it is 6:30 p.m. or 2 p.m., expect gridlock around Los Angeles. I put that right up there with death and taxes as things that are guaranteed in life.)
Ohio State is on its own journey to getting back to the days of making Final Four runs. They’ve already gotten past that figurative “gridlock in L.A. phase” by letting Matta go in favor of getting Holtmann. Now, they’re on the open highway, but are plagued by the flat tires of departures and transfers. While you can’t move as fast on spare tires, you can at least still move forward. That’s what Chris Holtmann is doing with this Buckeye squad. A cultural change takes time, as the team has to buy into the process. But once they do, expect Holtmann and his Bucks to be mainstays at the top of the weekly rankings and conference standings.