Jake Diebler

Jake Diebler, Bruce Thornton Discuss Chris Holtmann Departure, Moving Forward

COLUMBUS — Ohio State men’s basketball interim head coach Jake Diebler met with reporters for the first time since former head coach Chris Holtmann’s departure. He discussed the events, what they meant for him, and how the team will move forward. Following Diebler, starting point guard Bruce Thornton also answered questions about the situation and how the team has handled the recent events.

Jake Diebler

  • What was this process like, getting the news, weighing the decision? You never want to become a head coach like this. “These are absolutely not the circumstances that I ever would’ve imagined.” The hardest part was that his heart and mind immediately went to Holtmann and his family. “That was really hard.” When Gene Smith asked him to step in, it wasn’t a difficult decision because “I immediately thought about our guys. I wanted to be there to support them.”
  • What was Wednesday like as the head coach? He met with Gene Smith, then called his wife, then he set up a meeting with the rest of the staff. There was a meeting with the players, then the staff followed up with their players. Then he started calling at least one family member of each player, then setting up meetings with the individual players the next day. Many people reached out to him and they were all thinking about Holtmann. Diebler connected with people that he trusts for advice. Wednesday was a blur. “It was a lot.” The hard part right now is just maintaining focus through the hurt that you have for somebody you love so much.
  • “I’m excited about what’s left in the season and the opportunity in front of us.” Yesterday’s practice was good but the guys are hurting. “In my opinion, I felt like we won yesterday with having a good practice.”
  • He advised the players to process this however they needed to. Everybody does that differently. He told them that with six games left, it’s hard to make wholesale changes, so the best way he can serve them and the program is to be himself and “not try to be Holt.” They changed a few things in practice to fit his personality, which allowed him to be authentic. But the leadership of the players has been good and they’ve locked in.
  • What does “being me” mean? The guys would tell you that he operates with a passion and urgency and a pace to things. They try to tailor practice around that. They embraced that. There are new responsibilities but he’s going to keep doing what he’s always done for the players. After this interview session he has plans to go work out with a couple of players. “I care about this program and serving this program well.”
  • Aaron Craft stopped by practice yesterday. That allowed the players to see that this Ohio State is bigger than themselves.
  • There is a job to be done and a responsibility to do it well. Holtmann has helped him a ton and he’s a much better coach today than when he got here to work for Holtmann. He’s an excellent human. The focus now is to serve this program as best as he can “and I only know how to do that with an edge.”
  • What’s it like being the head coach? “I feel really comfortable about the game.” He’s still processing if roles will be different for him in other areas but he feels good and comfortable and ready to coach a game because he’s had some spot duties doing it in the past.
  • “Make no mistake, this is going to take a whole collective effort.”
  • He told his wife last night when he got home that he felt like they accomplished so much but also that they didn’t accomplish enough at the same time. So he’s still navigating that reality. The staff and players have been great. Holtmann has provided a good example for all of them over the years.
  • How do you focus on No. 2 Purdue coming in with everything going on? “Our guys, we’re going into that game to compete at the highest level and win.” There are areas they need to get better and they are addressing that. “We’re going to be well prepared.” The guys are excited about the opportunity in front of them, which helps shift the focus off of the firing.
  • He hasn’t viewed this as an opportunity to audition for the job. This is a stewardship of the program, so that’s where all of his mental energy.
  • What gives him confidence that this team is capable of finishing strong? “Who our guys are and some of our play this year.” They have beaten some good teams this year. “We’ve had great moments in games in league play, so that gives me belief…” Plus he knows the fight that the team has.
  • How do you fix the little things that change an 8-point loss into a great win against a good opponent? The Wisconsin loss revealed some strong character from players on this team. Overall, however, they need to get much better at rebounding. They have talked about that. It’s an area that they control to a better degree. He asked them to accept the accountability of rebounding. The team agreed they can be better at that.
  • What has your family said to you at this point? Obviously a lot of love and support but the common theme has been just be yourself. His brother Jon’s perspective was a little different because he knows the program and they talked about that.
  • How do you handle recruiting at a time like this? The focus is on the guys that are signed. Spending a lot of time on that isn’t in the best interest of the players on the team right now. Not to dismiss this and create a void because landing Ohio players is important but right now it’s about serving the players in the locker room as well as those who have already signed to be here.
  • What’s your perspective on roster turnover? There are a lot of factors that go into that. NIL plays a significant factor in that in the spring. The last couple of years, the support at Ohio State has gotten better and better, and it’s critical for the program. Everybody has seen the success rate of having older teams, so retention is critical.
  • How do you summarize the last two years? He hasn’t given that part much thought. They did a ton of reflecting after last season. Some of the things that people mention as reasons for the struggles like experience or caring, he hasn’t felt like his guys haven’t fought to win games. The team finished strong last year and that validates what he is saying about the fight they have within them.
  • Are the players locked in now? After talking to them yesterday, “I absolutely feel that way, yeah.” “I think they’re gonna fight all the way through to the end.”
  • Who were some people reaching out with advice? The best piece of advice he got? That’s challenging to narrow down. The Drew coaching family reached out to him, all three of them with thoughts, which was helpful. It was a consistent message of being yourself. It means something different when you hear it from people who aren’t your family. He will lean on what Holtmann has taught him. He’s learned from Thad Matta, who sent him a nice message as well.
  • What does it mean to you that you are being entrusted like this? He did take some time on that first day about what it meant that Gene Smith asked him to do this and the responsibility of actually doing it. “He’s someone who when you’re in this profession and you know the importance of that position…” and you form a relationship with somebody like that, he takes the moments they have had together very seriously. It’s a compliment that Smith has called him a warrior. His focus is on serving the program and the players. That’s what Gene Smith wants, and that’s what he wants as well. “I asked our guys to worry about what’s next when that time comes,” so he has to be that example as well.

Bruce Thornton

  • How did you process this? They had a meeting with Gene Smith who explained they needed to go in a different direction. As a player, that’s beyond his concern because they have academics and games to stay focused on, especially with him being a captain and having a big game coming.
  • “I just take it one game at a time. Things happen. College basketball is a business.” Yesterday was a great practice. The energy was there.
  • It was a highly intense practice yesterday. They had time to get after it because they don’t have a game until Sunday.
  • As a player, he can’t control what happens with the coaches, but as a point guard and captain, he can have a say in how the team responds on the court.
  • It was good to have Aaron Craft stop by to tell them to keep playing.
  • As players, they are playing for the guys next to them. They’ve put the work in all year long. These are relationships and bonds that are unbreakable.
  • It was difficult to process the news, especially with a big game Sunday. He wanted to make sure he was mentally available to talk to his teammates. They’ve never been through this before but his message is that life happens and you have to keep moving on.
  • Jake Diebler understands the guys because he’s younger. He pushed the pace and the tempo yesterday.
  • He talked to the team. He had a bad feeling when he work up on Wednesday, then he got a text about a meeting with Gene Smith.
  • “College basketball is a business. It just is what it is,” especially now with NIL involved.
  • How does an increased pace of play fit him? “I feel like I can play multiple styles of basketball.” But Diebler’s style reminds him of his high school days because it’s up-tempo with great energy. It helps your conditioning as well.
  • Chris Holtmann met with every player individually. He’s been great to be coached by. They were always over at his house. “I really respect him as a man.”
  • If college basketball is a business, why not leave for the portal now? As a captain, you have a responsibility to finish things out and see what happens. “You just don’t quit.” Even if you don’t like it, at least finish it out. If you don’t like it after that, then you can go do something. “I’m not quitting on my teammates.” The team is going to finish it out the right way.
  • What was the conversation like individually with Jake Diebler? He said this was new for everybody. This isn’t normal. But basically just wanted to make sure Thornton was okay, and if so, then help somebody else who needs it.
  • Thornton is at a “way better place” mentally and emotionally now than he was a couple of days ago.
  • They will start going over the Purdue film today.

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