Ohio State Buckeyes: Holtmann excited to coach new-look, veteran roster

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VIDEO: Chris Holtmann curious to see how NCAA tournament loss motivates Buckeyes

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When Chris Holtmann sat down with reporters Tuesday to talk about Ohio State basketball, he said he had missed the experience.

Of course, the head coach of the Buckeyes has done plenty of interviews over the past year-plus, but typically they were of the video conference variety.

ExploreHoltmann still trying to elevated Buckeyes through changing college basketball landscape

In this case, he sat in front of a collection of trophies the Scarlet and Gray have won in the past while he talked about the future, both near and longer term, and he had reasons to feel good after recently securing a high-scoring transfer and a ballyhooed high school recruit.

Here are four things to know about the state of the basketball Buckeyes in mid-summer:

1. Holtmann has a jam-packed roster.

Around the country, many players took the NCAA’s offer of a free year of eligibility as a result of the uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ohio State is no exception with nine seniors among the 15 players on the roster, both numbers that include Justin Ahrens of Versailles and walk-ons Jansen Davidson Jr. of Fairmont and Harrison Hookfin of Lebanon.

Fifth-year senior Kyle Young’s decision to take the extra year and the addition of senior transfers Joey Brunk (Indiana), Cedric Russell (Louisiana) and Jamari Wheeler (Penn State) swelled the roster, but Holtmann does not seem to mind he will have a lot of players to find minutes for this fall and winter.

“I think old matters,” he said. “It does matter. I think it really does help, too, if you’re old and experienced together. I think that really helps your team. If you look at (national champion) Baylor this year, they were old, as were a lot of good teams.”

One player Holtmann won’t have to worry about finding playing time for is Kalen Etzler. The incoming freshman from Convoy (Ohio) Crestview will redshirt with an eye on long-term development, something Holtmann said had been discussed during the recruiting process.

2. C.J. Walker graduated and Duane Washington Jr. opted to stay in the NBA Draft, but they have been replaced by a pair of senior transfers.

Wheeler, who played 127 games at Penn State and led the Big Ten in steals the past two seasons, announced early in the spring he would finish his career at Ohio State.

The two-time Big Ten All-Defense team member is expected to add some tenacity to that side of the floor for the Buckeyes and be another option as a ball-handler.

Russell, who is still finishing his academic work at Louisiana, averaged 17.2 points per game for the Rajin’ Cajuns last season and gives the Buckeyes another 3-point shooter and scorer.

“I think Cedric is going to have to figure out this level, the challenge at this level,” Holtmann said. “But I do think that he’s got a real ability to make shots. He’s proven that throughout his career. And I think when you look at what he’s done and what he particularly did last year against high level competition.”

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3. Two youngsters could also have big roles in the backcourt.

Malaki Branham will be a true freshman while Meechie Johnson Jr. should be.

Johnson graduated from high school early last year and enrolled in time to get a jump on college. The Cleveland Garfield Heights product played in 17 games for the Buckeyes and scored 21 points, but Holtmann said it was a worthwhile experience.

Meanwhile, much is expected of Branham, Ohio’s reigning Mr. Basketball and the nation’s No. 34 incoming recruit.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Ohio State basketball coach Chris Holtmann excited to coach Malaki Branham

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The 6-foot-5 guard/wing led Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary to the Division II state championship last season and scored more than 1,500 points for the Fighting Irish, who also won it all his freshman season.

Though he needs to add muscle to his frame, which includes a 6-9 wingspan, Holtmann called Branham a tremendous kid.

“His ball skills have continued to grow and improve,” he said. “In high school he kind of played all over really for them. He’ll play either guard or a wing spot here primarily, but we’re really excited about what he can be. I think he’ll look like a freshman at times and then he’ll look like a guy who has a tremendous future at times, and that’s the natural development for young players.”

4. The future is bright behind them, too.

Holtmann’s next class is shaping up to be his best since arriving in Columbus in 2017.

Felix Okpara, a 6-11 center from Chattanooga, Tenn., and the No. 47 prospect in 247Sports Composite national rankings, verbally committed this week to push Ohio State’s 2022 class to the top spot in the nation.

He should give Ohio State a true big man while guards Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle Jr. and Bowen Hardman can replenish the perimeter.

Thornton is a four-star prospect from Alpharetta, Ga., the No. 23 player in the country and the nation’s No. 5 point guard, while Gayle is a four-star prospect from Youngstown, N.Y., the No. 46 player in the country and No. 5 shooting guard.

Hardman is a three-star prospect from Cincinnati Princeton and the No. 7 prospect in Ohio.

Holtmann can’t talk about players who are unsigned, but he could express satisfaction in the progress he and his staff have made on the talent acquisition front.

“I think we have a potential class that is one that you kind of work towards building, and I’m just really excited about really the last couple years,” Holtmann said. “We just hadn’t brought in quite the numbers because we haven’t needed to, but with all that we’re losing (after this season), we need to bring in a really solid class that can impact things, and I’m excited about that.”

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