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As signing period begins, Ohio State is waiting on decisions from three big men

Two five-star recruits and a DII All-American; will the buckeyes land any of them?

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It could be a while until Chris Holtmann really knows what his roster will look like when the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team next takes to the court this fall. He is currently waiting on a pair of NBA decisions, an announcement about whether or not a senior will use his COVID-created extra year of eligibility, and a handful of announcements from a variety of big men.

As you likely already know, Holtmann’s two leading scorers from this past season — Duane Washington Jr. and E.J. Liddell — have both entered the evaluation process for the NBA Draft. However, neither will sign with an agent so that they will maintain their eligibility, should they decide to come back to Columbus.

While I would assume that both would have their decisions made before then, they actually could wait all the way until July 19 to pull their name out of draft consideration. Due to the pandemic, the Association pushed back its draft about five weeks from when it normally takes place in late June.

This year, it will be held on July 29, so players have until a week and a half before that date to decide if they want to take their chances with the draft, or return to play in college. Currently, neither Washington or Liddell are projected to be drafted, but I do think that both could be solid pros overseas right now, if they so choose. But, if I had to venture a wager, I’d bet that both would prefer to continue pursuing their NBA dreams, so another year with the Buckeyes might make the most sense.

With CJ Walker’s announcement yesterday that he would not be returning for a sixth year of collegiate eligibility, the only other player whose status for 2021 is still up in the air for the Buckeyes is Kyle Young. His senior season ended with a pair of concussions just a week or so apart, adding to a long history of injury and illness for the Buckeye glue guy.

Unlike Washington and Liddell, I don’t see Young having even a remote shot at playing in the league, but could be a solid big man overseas, as a number of former Buckeyes have been; like Dallas Lauderdale, Evan Ravenel, Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross, Trevor Thompson, and others.

Given how his season ended — tying his career high in the first half against Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament, only to take an elbow to the head shortly after halftime — I could see Young, the consummate team-guy, giving it one last go.

If he does, here’s what the roster of scholarship players would look like, including Penn State transfer guard Jamari Wheeler:

OSU MBB’s 2021-22 Roster

Player Class Pos Height
Player Class Pos Height
Duane Washington SR G 6-3
Eugene Brown SO G 6-6
Jimmy Sotos SR+ G 6-3
Malaki Branham FR G 6-4
Meechie Johnson Jr. SO G 6-2
Jamari Wheeler SR G 6-0
E.J. Liddell JR F 6-7
Ibrahima Diallo SO F 6-10
Justice Sueing SR F 6-7
Justin Ahrens SR F 6-6
Kalen Etzler FR F 6-8
Kyle Young SR+ F 6-8
Seth Towns SR F 6-8
Zed Key SO F 6-8

What you might notice by looking at that list is that the Buckeyes are still without a true, legit inside presence. While Young and Liddell can body up in the paint, they aren’t centers, and that was a problem for Holtmann’s squad this season, especially as the B1G will never not have a glut of big men.

So, there are a pair of vertically advantaged recruits that will be announcing their college decisions soon that could have a huge impact on the OSU front court come this fall.

The first, and less likely, option for Ohio State is the No. 1 player in the country. 7-foot-center Chet Holmgren. While the Buckeyes are a finalist for the Minnesota native, the overwhelming assumption is that he will join Mark Few’s class at Gonzaga — although going to the NBA G League is still a possibility.

Holmgren is a McDonald’s All-American and apparently compares to Anthony Davis (Brandon Jenkins’ words, not mine). A great rim protector who also has “elite ball skills,” Holmgren would almost certainly start at the 5 for OSU should he decide to join Holtmann’s 2021 class. While he does not yet have an announcement date on the calendar, with the Signing Period beginning tomorrow, it could come at any time.

I wouldn’t get your hopes up too high for Holmgren though. The Buckeyes seem like a long shot here, but if they do land the No. 1 player in the country for the first time since Greg Oden in 2005, you should immediately get very, very excited about the possibilities for this team in 2021-22.

The other prospect that Holtmann and company are waiting to hear from is fellow five-star center Efton Reid. The 6-foot-11 product of Richmond, Va. played his final year of high school eligibility at IMG Academy in Florida. He is currently rated as the No. 23 player in the country, but has been unusually quiet throughout his recruiting process. Like, literally, he doesn’t talk about it to anyone. In fact, we only know that he will be announcing his college choice on Thursday, April 15 because his mom tweeted it out last week.

There are currently zero crystal balls for him on 247 for him, but Rivals has one FutureCast for him going to Pitt. The other schools most often rumored for Reids landing spot are Ohio State, Virginia, Florida State, and NC State.

At this point, your guess is as good as anybody else’s about where he goes, but he would certainly be a huge bonus to this year’s class. Currently, he is projected as a second round NBA draft pick, and has a ton of skill, if not the athleticism that you’d like to see in a dude that big. He has great footwork in the post, but can also hit from distance. Depending on how things shake out with the rest of the roster, I could see him starting as a true freshman for OSU, but even off the bench, having that big of a body to put in the paint is never a bad thing.

I’m not letting myself get too optimistic about landing either of those two big men; my grandfather used to say, “Expect the worst, hope for the best,” and that’s kind of how I have always lived my life. So, that’s how I’m approaching these two perspective commitments.

Now, there is one other big guy that could join the Buckeyes in the fall, and that’s Division II All-American Parker Fox. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 22.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, and 2.5 assists last season at Northern State in South Dakota. He has entered the transfer portal looking to land at the DI level and has already named a Top 8:

A Minnesota native, Fox doesn’t necessarily have B1G center size, and he doesn’t really have the ability to stretch the defense — he was 5-for-20 from beyond the arc this season — but he is very proficient around the paint both offensively and defensively, and has a flair for the dramatic at the rim.

Fox led all of Division II in blocks, was fifth with 10 double-doubles, and ninth in shooting percentage at 64.41%. I don’t know if he would be the answer for OSU down low, as he kind of fits the mold of what the Buckeyes have had in the front court for a while now, but I do think he would at least be an interesting option in the front court to team with Liddell, Young, Justice Sueing, and a healthy Seth Towns.

So, basically Holtmann is looking at three potential big guys and just one spot remaining on the roster. If Young and/or Jimmy Sotos return in the fall, neither would count towards OSU’s scholarship limit, since they were both seniors on the 2020-21 roster — thanks COVID. That means that the Buckeyes have 12 of their 13 scholarships accounted for, following the transfer of Musa Jallow.

Getting a big man to join Malaki Branham (Holtmann’s top recruit while at Ohio State) and Kalen Etzler in the 2021 recruiting class would be very nice. But, if they don’t land one of these three, they can either keep looking at the transfer portal — as they often have for veteran guards — or they can pocket the scholarship and potentially bring in an extra player in 2022, which is currently the top-rated class in the country.

I think Holtmann’s squad should be very good next season, depending on Young’s decision, the team is essentially the same as the one that earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But, we all know what happened to them as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, so it would be nice to add one more very big — literally and figuratively — piece to the puzzle in 2021.