The Ohio State men’s basketball team looks to build upon last season’s NCAA Tournament run with a mix of new and familiar faces. After losing former players Malaki Branham and E.J. Liddell to the NBA Draft, the team looks to forge a new identity under head coach Chris Holtmann.
Of the 14 players comprising this Buckeyes squad, only four return from last season’s team that won 20 games and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Round of 32. Holtmann said no matter the roster, the team looks to develop its play before the season begins.
“This is really about the quiet, lonely work of every day,” Holtmann said. “We certainly did some of that this summer, but we’re still defining what our group is going to be like.”
The former Butler head coach turned over a roster of which six players left via graduation at the end of the 2021-22 season, with others transferring or declaring eligibility for professional basketball. Despite that, Holtmann managed to recruit the No. 8 overall class in 2022, according to 247Sports.
Among those recruits is 6-foot-6 freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh, who was named Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball following his senior season. He said he didn’t know what to expect making the transition from high school to college, but Ohio State has “exceeded his expectations.”
“It’s been really everything I’ve expected and more,” Sensabaugh said. “In terms of the coaching staff and the players and our relationships and stuff like that. And the workouts and the intensity has been challenging, but we’ve grown to get used to it, and push ourselves to limits we probably wouldn’t have expected we’d get to.”
The 2018 Big Ten Coach of the Year spoke highly of his freshmen this season and said he believes his team has four freshmen who can contribute. Even though Holtmann believes they will face challenges, he’s “excited about the potential of this group.”
While Holtmann brought in five new players via the 2022 recruiting class, he also brought in three upperclassmen transfers immediately eligible to play. Among the transfers is senior guard Tanner Holden — who transferred from Wright State and said Ohio State brings a lot to the table for a college athlete.
“Ohio State in general, they have all the resources you need academically and athletically,” Holden said. “Their resume every year just gets better and better. Last year beating Duke, a lot of big wins. I think overall I’m super excited.”
Holden added he thinks it will be a “super exciting season” with a versatile group. Alongside Holden, the Buckeyes added graduate guards Isaac Likekele and Sean McNeil from Oklahoma State and West Virginia, respectively.
One of the areas Holtmann wanted to focus on improving is the defense, which he said “has not been good enough the last two years.” Coupled with rebounding, Holtmann said those issues were ones he’s tried to address through offseason moves.
The Buckeyes return four players from last season, including regular contributors in the form of juniors forward Zed Key and guard Eugene Brown III. While they bring experience from previous seasons, Brown said a team trip to the Bahamas over the summer was the perfect way for the new group of guys to connect.
“I feel like that Bahamas trip was honestly perfect timing for this kind of team that we have,” Brown said. “We go on these international trips every four years, and it just so happens we have, what, 12 new guys coming in. We get to take this time to bond and connect, but I think this trip has made that merge a little easier.”
Holtmann said the trip to the Bahamas was “important” for team bonding and to see the roster in action.
Holtmann said he and his coaching staff look to find new ways to evolve their philosophies with each season that passes.
“I think it’s one of those things every offseason,” Holtmann said. “Where you’re looking at it and saying, ‘OK, what did we do well, and what can we do better?’ And that’s a constant process for someone like myself and our staff who are trying to be lifelong learners.”
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