COLUMBUS — Head coach Chris Holtmann and his Ohio State men’s basketball team held their annual media day on Tuesday to preview the upcoming season. Camp begins on Thursday for the Buckeyes, who are being talked about as possible Big Ten title contenders.
Ohio State returns a good mix of veterans and Holtmann has a heralded group of four freshmen to bolster the talent as well.
Before Holtmann started fielding any questions about his team, however, he provided some injury updates on a few players.
“We have three guys that will not open practice at full strength,” he said. “Justin Ahrens, Musa Jallow, and EJ Liddell are all on the mend right now. Various injuries. You know about Justin’s back. I don’t want to get specifics on the others, just a couple lower leg injuries with the other guys.
“We anticipate Justin and EJ being back in the preseason, at some point. With Musa, I think it’s going to be kind of week-to-week depending on how he continues to progress, but he’s going to be out for a while. As far as our team outside of that, everybody is healthy and ready to go. And we cannot wait to get started.”
One player who is quite healthy and looks as good as he ever has is junior center Kaleb Wesson. After testing the NBA Draft waters following the 2018-2019 season, Wesson returned for at least one more year. Holtmann is glad he did.
“Kaleb looks great. He looks great,” he said. “He’s worked really hard at it. I think he’s shown tremendous discipline in terms of just what he has wanted his body to look like. I think the challenge for him will be to continue to move in that direction as we go throughout the season. He did a really good job. And I don’t know that it was really noticed as much, but he really he did a much better job last year of staying in better shape later in the year. And it showed in his play.”
As Ohio State’s leading returning scorer (14.6 ppg) and rebounder (6.9 rpg), much will be expected of Wesson this season. He is not alone in those expectations, however. Sophomore guards Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington had their moments last season, and they will need to have more this season.
“I think it’s going to be really important,” Holtmann said of their potential. “I think you could look at their growth as as important as anything with our team right now. Are they going to learn from their freshman year where they had some really good moments? And some moments where they struggled? Can we as a coaching staff get them to take some of those lessons that they learned and take the next step?
“And primarily it’s going to begin with a higher level of efficiency on the offensive end for both of those guys. And I think we saw Duane take steps as the season went on and improve in that particular area. You know, Luther hit maybe a little bit of a wall and struggled in some of those areas. I think as coaches now that we’ve had a year coaching them, can we do a better job of making sure that we’re putting them in positions to make them the most successful?”
A year ago as freshmen, Muhammad and Washington were counted on heavily and responded perhaps more than many expected them to. This year, Holtmann welcomes in four new freshman — point guard DJ Carton, forwards EJ Liddell and Alonzo Gaffney, and center Ibrahima Diallo.
Much is expected of Carton and Liddell right away, but it’s still way too early to get wrapped up in the expectations of his freshman class.
“I think they’ve all had their moments,” Holtmann said. “I couldn’t point to one in particular. A couple of them have had various times where they’ve been out, dating back from the summer to now that that’s kind of limited them in some ways. So I don’t know that we’ve had enough time with all of them in consistent practice to get a real sense.
“They’ve all had their moments where they’ve they’ve really impacted their team. I think they’re getting in better shape. They figured out what college basketball conditioning and shape looks like. I think that’s been a process for them. And that’ll be an ongoing process. With EJ being out, we’ll have to expedite that as quickly as we can when he returns.”