Ohio State’s initial transition from the Thad Matta to Chris Holtmann era was marked with turmoil. Citing a lack of success in bringing in Ohio’s best and brightest, Matta’s sudden departure represented yet another strike in a long string of Buckeye gut punches. Already with David Bell and Trevor Thompson gone by way of transfer and the NBA draft, a resignation and eventual arrest for JaQuan Lyle, as well as a decommitment from 2018 prospect Darius Bazely, the firing prompted even further uncertainty with future players.
Enter Chris Holtmann. Within the first month of Holtmann’s tenure, the almost comical list of derogatory offseason marks got a little bit longer. Dane Goodwin and Justin Ahrens, both top prospects in Ohio, decommited. Signed four-star 2017 guard Braxton Beverly requested his release from the program. The top three Ohio prospects for the class of 2018 committed to Syracuse, Indiana, and Nortwestern. Amongst the recruiting chaos, the team officially dismissed red shirt freshman Derek Funderburk for failing to meet team expectations.
But with cheesy cliche in full force…it’s always darkest before the dawn, you can’t have sunshine without rain, and when all hope is lost, a group of high hoped underdogs can rise up in the face of defeat. Holtmann did his best sports movie impression, dramatically snatching the Buckeye program from the brink. Former four-star Butler commit and top Ohio 2017 prospect Kyle Young flipped, following the coach to Columbus. Holtmann built on that momentum, adding two four-star prospects in Musa Jallow and Torrence Watson over the past two weeks. He even grabbed a graduate transfer from “that team up north,” as well as another former Butler commit in walk-on Connor Fulton.
In Watson, the Buckeyes’ first 2018 commit under Holtmann, the program added a relentless and versatile scorer. Last season, the four-star guard averaged nearly 29 points per game en route to All-Metro honors for the St. Louis area. The top 150 prospect recently discussed his strengths with Land-Grant Holy Land:
“I can score the ball, whether than means getting to the basket, pulling up for a jump shot, or shooting from long range. I bring versatility and am able to score on all three levels […] My last high school season, I took on a more dominant role handling the ball. It wouldn’t be much of a problem at OSU. In high school and AAU, I moved to the three a lot. I’m comfortable playing the one, two and three.”
Musa Jallow, a wing from Bloomington, IN, had been a high target for Holtmann while at Butler, and the coach had no trouble building off that foundation and luring him to Ohio State instead.
"He's the type of guy to take that job," Jallow told Cleveland.com. "You have to have a certain level of confidence in yourself, and a certain ability to take that spot in the first place. Whenever I talked to him on my visit, he was extremely excited about the opportunity -- all the coaches were. That energy just rubbed off, and I'm ready to come in and get this right."
Jallow quickly reclassified from 2018 to 2017, providing a much-needed boost to a roster possessing a mere 9 scholarship players next season. By joining Young and Matta commit Kaleb Wesson, Jallow rounds out an Ohio State 2017 class that ranks first in the Big Ten and 23rd overall, per 247Sports’ rankings. Considering the previously destructive offseason, the turnaround is remarkable and will most certainly quell any questions surrounding Holtmann’s ability to recruit.
Now that Holtmann and Ohio State have found a semblance of stability, the attention can be turned toward the future, particularly in-state. Despite decommiting, 2018 four-star guard Justin Ahrens has resurfaced as a target for the Buckeyes, receiving an offer from Holtmann and Ohio State on Tuesday. Additionally, Ohio top five 2018 guard Dwayne Cohill remains high on the school’s list, joining top Ohio 2019 guard Jeremiah Francis and forward Jordan Mitchell. The goal of successful recruiting in Ohio moving forward remains the primary goal.
“This region … is a tremendous area for talented, smart and tough players. I’ve recruited Ohio for over 20 years, and it has outstanding players and coaches — some of the best in the country,” Holtmann stated at his introductory press conference. “It will be paramount to our success, there’s no question. We’re going to work extremely hard as a staff to close the borders and dominate the state of Ohio in recruiting. It will be an every-day focus for us.”
If Holtmann’s success this offseason is any indication, the Buckeyes have a strong case to reemerge as the go to destination for players in the state of Ohio.