What We Learned as Chris Holtmann, Buckeyes enter next offseason phase

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Chris Holtmann
Chris Holtmann hopped on the Buckeye Show on 97.1 The Fan on Tuesday night. (Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

COLUMBUS — Chris Holtmann has started to put last season in perspective.

Ohio State lost its last game of the season in heart-wrenching fashion, an upset loss in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 15 seed Oral Roberts. The Buckeyes coach still thinks about the final game of last season every day, but he’s beginning to reflect on the year in its entirety.

Along with making the first Big Ten Tournament championship game appearance since 2013, the Buckeyes finished No. 7 in the final AP Poll of the season. Picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten in most preseason polls, Ohio State looked like a team capable of contending for a national championship in January.

“Listen, I think of that very last game every day,” Holtmann said Tuesday night on The Buckeye Show on 97.1 The Fan. “I don’t think there’s any other way to look at it. I also think I’ve reflect on the fact — it was an interesting year. … You reflect on some good things and you own [it], lean into the struggles and figure out how we can certainly perform better in that final game.

“I tend to look at the season as a whole, and that’s hard in today’s college basketball because people reflect on just the final couple weeks. I do try as much as possible to reflect on the entire season in its entirety.”

Now the focus turns to next season. Holtmann alluded to the Buckeyes’ Big Ten schedule Tuesday night, which includes home games against Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State. And Ohio State will either play Kentucky, UCLA or North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic.

There will be plenty of time to analyze the Buckeyes schedule when it is fully released later this summer. Lettermen Row is looking at the lessons learned in Chris Holtmann’s interview on The Buckeye Show from Tuesday night.

Duane Washington-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Ohio State star Duane Washington Jr. is still exploring the NBA Draft waters. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

June will be busy with basketball recruiting, too

The NCAA dead period ends on June 1, allowing recruits to return to campuses around the country. So much focus has been placed on the importance of June in football, but Ohio State basketball will be busy with official and unofficial visits throughout the month.

With the class of 2021 joining the program this summer, the focus shifts to the 2022 class. The Buckeyes currently have the No. 1 class in the nation with three commitments. Four-star point guard Bruce Thornton, four-star shooting guard Roddy Gayle Jr. and three-star Bowen Hardman have all verbally committed to Ohio State, which has room to add four more players in the class.

Starting June 5, however, sophomores will be viewed as juniors in the eyes of the NCAA, allowing Holtmann and his staff to begin forming relationships with new prospects.

“It’s going to be busy,” he said. “June is a time when we can go back out and also have recruits on campus. It’s huge. Right now as I’m looking at my desk, I see a number of visits planned in June. I mean, every day is jammed packed with basically at least one, in some cases two visitors. Some unofficial visits, some official visits. It’s every day including Sundays in most cases. It will be a really busy June. July we’ll be gone three weekends recruiting.

“I was talking to an ACC head coach yesterday, and he was kind of lamenting in his mind the fact that: Here we go again. The pandemic, at least some of the restrictions are over. And the idea of either recruiting on campus or off campus every day throughout the summer is here.”

Ohio State waiting on E.J. Liddell, Duane Washington Jr.

Both E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington Jr. opted to test the NBA Draft waters this offseason, electing to not hire an agent and keeping the possibility of returning to Ohio State in the mix. Arguably the two best players on last season’s roster, the duo have until July 19 to withdraw their names from the draft.

Holtmann has been adamant about giving Liddell and Washington all the time and help they need in making the decision. Neither will make their announcements until late June after the NBA holds its combine, which is tentatively scheduled from June 21 to June 27

“I spent some time in traveling with E.J. and Duane,” Holtmann said. “We continue to try to help and support them through this process. I don’t think we’re going to know anything for several weeks, to be honest with you. That makes this somewhat of an anxious summer for us, but we’re going to support them and help them make the best decision for them as they go through this.”

Even if one of the two Buckeyes continue the draft process and doesn’t return to Columbus, Ohio State will be pressured to go to the transfer portal and add an all-around scorer.

Malaki Branham-Ohio State-Ohio State basketball-Buckeyes

Malaki Branham will make an impact for the Ohio State Buckeyes. (Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

Malaki Branham is real deal for Buckeyes

While Ohio State awaits the decision of Liddell and Washington, Holtmann is excited for the talent he’s adding in the class of 2021 this summer. An Akron native from St. Vincent-St. Mary, Malaki Branham is a versatile player who can be a threat on the inside and outside.

The signee was named Ohio’s Mr. Basketball after leading his high school team to a state championship. He averaged 21.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists a game this winter. With a 6-foot-4, 175-pound frame, Branham could be first-year starter for the Buckeyes. He also wants to wear Ohio State legend Jimmy Jackson’s No. 22.

“Malachi, what a special kid he is,” Holtmann said. “I think he’s a young man people are really going to love watching and getting to know. He’s kind of a versatile, multi-position guard. I don’t think you pigeonhole him in any particular position. The biggest thing for him is he and I both have to write [to Jimmy Jackson]. I’m going to have him write a letter or pick up the phone and call Jimmy Jackson because he really wants to wear that number. I don’t know, we’ll see how that goes.”