A year ago, the Ohio State basketball program was little more than a massive amalgamation of questions. Buckeye fans knew little about new head coach Chris Holtmann, and little was expected from a team that had failed to make the NCAA Tournament for two years, and in 2016-17 failed to make any postseason tournament at all.
However, almost from Day 1, Holtmann and his team of determined overachievers began answering those questions. They weren’t always the prettiest answers; they weren’t always the best answers, but the answers worked nonetheless. The first-year coach called upon veterans like Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams, and shockingly Andrew Dakich of all people to lead the program through his first season in Columbus.
Along the way, we learned that KBD was one of the smoothest players in recent Ohio State history, en route to winning the Big Ten Player of the Year. We learned that no matter whom he was battling, Jae’Sean Tate was going to play like a big four or five inches taller than he actually was, and we learned that veterans can push and pull even the thinnest of teams to unexpected heights.
Fast forward to season No. 2 for Holtmann at OSU, and there are a whole host of new questions to be answered, but, this time, without any of the primary people who helped answer them a year ago.
Gone is KBD, gone is Tate, gone is Williams, and gone is Dakich. In the place of the experienced talent that he lost last spring, Holtmann has added an exciting group of newcomers to the OSU roster. Whether any of them will be called upon to provide significant answers for the Buckeye basketball team this season or not is yet to be determined, but in the development and the evolution of Holtmann’s Ohio State program, eventually this crop of talent will be called upon to provide answers of their own.
Let’s take a look at the newest class of basketball Buckeyes:
The lone Ohioan in Holtmann’s recruiting 2018 class, Ahrens comes in as a three-star prospect from Versailles, Ohio and as the reigning two-time Ohio Division III Co-Player of the Year. As a senior, he averaged 23.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game and holds Versailles High School records for career points, 3-pointers, rebounds, and assists, as well as single-game records for both points and 3-pointers.
As the lowest rated player in his class, Ahrens likely won’t be called upon to contribute in any significant fashion as a freshman. However, if he is smart, Ahrens will pay close attention to how junior wing Andre Wesson goes about his business. Andre was a late addition to Thad Matta’s 2016 recruiting class, and was forever in the shadow of his big little brother Kaleb. However, Andre has worked his way into likely starting this season, and being an indispensable part of what the Buckeyes do on both ends of the floor.
Ahrens will probably never be as physical as Andre can be, but he could provide some shooting help for the Buckeyes should they find themselves in need for a spot-up shooter; the thing that Ahrens probably does better than the rest of his classmates.
Jaedon LeDee comes to Ohio State from Houston’s Kinkaid School, where he averaged 27 points, 15 rebounds and three assists as a senior. The nation’s 103rd best player in the 2018 recruiting class, according to 247Sports, LeDee was a four-time all-state selection in Texas.
LeDee and Luther Muhammad are the two freshman likely to see the most playing time this season for the Buckeyes. Ohio State is a bit thin on the post, with only Kaleb Wesson and Micah Potter as true big men on the roster. Ledee will need to continue to develop his body and his conditioning to withstand the beating of a Big Ten schedule, but, due to the unreliability of Potter, and the foul and conditioning issues that plagued Kaleb Wesson last year, there could be opportunities for Ledee to contribute if he is physically ready when called upon.
The Jersey City, N.J. native is by far the biggest star of Holtmann’s 2018 class. He’s so well known in recruiting circles that even Kevin Durant checked out his highlights. The four-star prospect was rated as the 79th player in the country last year, going for 14.6 points, five rebounds, and three assists per game as a senior.
Thanks to playing alongside new Villanova freshman Jahvon Quinerly (the seventh-rated point guard in the country last year), Muhammad did not have the flashiest numbers coming out of Hudson Catholic High School. However, his athleticism and competitiveness are evident to anyone who watches him play.
A bit of an undersized shooting guard in today’s college basketball, Muhammad has the ability to create his own shots, something that few Buckeye 2s have been able to do in recent years. He is also an excellent defender, and likely will see time early backing up C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods, and Musa Jallow.
Muhammad is also a notorious trash-talker, so it will be fun to see how (and if) Holtmann works to curtail that, now that the guard is in college.
Duane Washington Jr.
Though originally from Grand Rapids, Mich., Washington comes to Columbus from Sierra Canyon High School in California, where he played his senior season. The nephew of NBA legend Derek Fisher, Washington joins the Buckeyes as a three-star prospect, rated 168th in the 2018 class. However, recruiting analysts believe that his move across the country hampered his status as schools and scouts on the west coast didn’t have as much of an opportunity to evaluate him.
Nonetheless, Washington averaged 15.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game as a senior. Like Ahrens, 2018-19 will likely be a developmental year for Washington as he works behind a slate of more experienced and/or talented guards.
In addition to returning guards Jackson and Jallow, Washington is one of three guards in the 2018 class. While they all come in with different strengths — including graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods — Washington is likely at the bottom of the backcourt totem poll as the season starts; save the current and former walk-ons.
During the off-season, Holtmann signed two transfer guards to join the program, Wake Forest graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods, who is available to play right away, and former Florida State player C.J. Walker, who will be eligible after sitting out this season.
Woods started his career at Charolette where he averaged 8.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game as a freshman. However, following the 2014-15 season, he transferred to Wake, and played two seasons for the Demon Deacons in 2016-17 and 2017-18. He averaged 12.5 and 11.9 points per game over his two seasons in Winston Salem, and he comes to Ohio State looking to add some backcourt experience to the Buckeye program. More of a traditional point guard, he should allow fellow transfer C.J. Jackson to move back to the shooting guard position where he is most comfortable.
The pair will look to manage a team of players either seeing their first substantive action at the collegiate level, or taking a step up in terms of responsibility. As is often the case in NCAA basketball, the Buckeyes’ success this season will be predicated in no small part upon the leadership and consistency that veteran guards Woods and Jackson can provide.