There is an old saying about not being the guy who follows the guy, but rather be the guy who follows the guy who followed the guy.
In Chris Holtmann’s situation, you would think it would be challenging and stressful following in the footsteps of Thad Matta, who won five Big Ten regular season championships, led his team to two Final Four appearances, and had the most wins in Ohio State Basketball history.
This might be a special case, however.
The final years of Matta’s run ended with a whimper, closing the golden era in OSU basketball. Banners and trophies gave way to frustration and indifference. The real tragedy here, however, would be if Matta was only remembered for the final few years of his time at Ohio State.
There are many who believe that next season will be just as bad for the Buckeyes. They have little-to-no expectations. Holtmann isn’t falling down that rabbit hole of negativity, but he understands they have a lot of work to do.
“We’re going to get to work,” Holtmann said during his introduction. “Listen, I think one of the reasons you come to a place like this is because you understand that expectations come with it. We’re certainly not going to shy away from that. We understand we have some work ahead of us, and I think our guys are excited about that and I’m really excited about that. This is a proud program that’s used to competing for championships, used to competing in the NCAA tournament, and we’re going to work diligently to make that happen.”
The Buckeyes have already had a rough offseason with players declaring for the NBA Draft or up and quitting. But that’s nothing compared to the last couple of years. An entire recruiting class has come and gone – or been sent on its way.
After the 2015-2016 season, Thad Matta addressed the current state and attitude of the program and his players, telling them, “I’m tired of the B.S. I’m going back to coaching basketball. I’m going back to running this program the way we did when we got here.”
Obviously, things didn’t really change and fans saw the same (lack of) effort and mistakes that scarred the previous season. There were bone-headed mistakes, poorly executed plays, and lack of hustle and aggression.
According to Holtmann, you will not be seeing that on his team.
“Aggressive, attacking,” he said of his preferred style of play. “We want to be physical and tough and tough-minded. It’s obviously something we’re going to have to work on every day, but tough and tough-minded is going to be really important. We want to play a really aggressive and attacking style and we want our guys to play with freedom. We want them to go out there, cut loose and play. I think that’s what people will see when they watch our team.”
Chris Holtmann has proven he can run a successful program. At Butler he took his teams to the NCAA tournament all three years he was there. His final season was capped with a Sweet Sixteen appearance. OSU fans are hoping he can bring that success back to the Buckeyes’ basketball program again. And as soon as possible.
But just how soon?
“I think the state of the program is good,” Holtmann said as his players watched from the back of the room. “We have some work to do and I think the reason I’m excited is the guys right behind you. As I’ve gotten to know them and spent some time with them, looking forward to spending more time with them, and if you say what gets you most excited? It’s those guys and what I’ve heard about those guys from people who’ve known them. That’s really what gets me excited. Beyond that, I’m not going to put a timetable on it. We’re going to work every day to obviously play in the best tournament in the world. I can promise you that.”
There are changes coming to the Ohio State basketball program, as well as a new vision for how things should be done.
No, not everybody can be the guy to follow the guy.
Holtmann, it would seem, has no such issues.
[Chris Holtmann photo courtesy ESPN.com]