Chris Holtmann Ohio State Buckeyes

Chris Holtmann Navigating Changing Landscape Of College Sports

The world of college sports is in a state of flux. It’s molten core has come spilling out from its festered pores. Every day, the coaches in this business have to keep up with their competitors while also making sure they don’t step in something that can burn them.

When the NCAA put off any kind of rulings on name, image, and likeness until they no longer had a say in the matter, and then also removed the rule that transfers had to sit out a year, they invited a primordial level of chaos into college athletics that will not be cooling any time soon, which means foundations are never quite as solid as they could be.

Rosters change like the seasons, and keeping a team together can be like juggling hay in a windstorm. There is no set formula on how to make it all work because the recipe is still stuck in research and development.

For Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann, roster building has always been based on recruiting, with a key transfer or two each year to supplement the needs and add the kind of experience and maturity that is needed in Big Ten play.

In the past, this has involved bringing in transfers who would redshirt for a year as they acclimated to Ohio State and the Buckeyes’ brand of basketball. Current forward Justice Sueing is one example of that. He came over from the University of California in 2019 and sat out the 2019-2020 season per NCAA rules.

Now, however, with the rules on transfers having changed, there is no longer a requirement to sit out a year. That has changed how everybody operates, including Holtmann.

“It’s still evolving. We’re still trying to figure that out,” Holtmann said on Monday when asked how his approach to transfers has changed.

The current Ohio State roster is much different than last year’s roster, and that is thanks in part to three transfers. Guards Isaac Likekele, Sean McNeil, and Tanner Holden all played elsewhere last year and are now being counted on to more than supplement a Buckeye roster that also includes six freshmen.

McNeil and Likekele are starters for the Buckeyes this year, while all Holden has done is hit a game-winning three-pointer for Ohio State the last time they were on the court.

“The immediate transfer comes with some expectations,” Holtmann said. “Before you could sit and wait and observe and get a better feel for them in practice. Honestly, I think we’re still trying to figure that out. We’re trying to learn and figure out which transfers work best for us. We’ve always talked about when to plug a hole. You lose a Malaki [Branham] that you weren’t expecting to lose, so you gotta get Sean McNeil. Those kinds of situations. But I think we’re still learning that, honestly.”

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Some basketball programs no longer look to the high school ranks, instead recruiting almost exclusively out of the portal. In an era where coaches are given less time than ever to win, having a team full of veterans can be a much safer approach. Regardless of the coaching approach, all coaches also have to continue to recruit their own players. Now that almost anybody can leave and play immediately, “landing” a player once may not be enough.

The constant state of change in college athletics right now can be an exhausting existence for a coach. It can also be overwhelming if they let it.

“I think you can get consumed with that and it really takes you off of what’s most important, which is coaching the team,” Holtmann said. “There are certainly times where you get frustrated, and you have conversations with your coaches or with other coaches. It can take you down a road that doesn’t help you perform at the best ability to coach your team. I think some of that is a conversation we’ll have in the offseason.”

Complaining rarely solves anything, and just about everybody has needed to vent about some aspect of their job that isn’t what they signed up for. Being a coach has always required so much more than coaching, and for head coaches this grows truer by the day.

Holtmann isn’t looking for any sympathy, however, nor does he think coaches deserve it.

Besides, he wouldn’t have time to hear it during the season anyway.

“I’ve said this, coaches in general, we like to complain but it doesn’t do any good really for us,” he said. “The reality is we all are blessed to do this, and we’ve got to figure out with this new changing landscape of college sports how we can do it to the best of our ability. The good thing is that the season is so all-consuming that I don’t really have time to think much about it right now.

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