Once again mired in winter free-fall, the basketball Buckeyes are attracting the wrong kind of state-wide – and national – attention.
I was in the land of bigger and better last week – Arlington, Texas – when a lifetime Buckeye turned Texan questioned the current state of OSU basketball over breakfast:
“What’s wrong with Ohio State basketball? It’s hard to watch.
“Is it talent?
“Is it a lack of competition for playing time?
“Is it Holtmann? I thought everyone loved him when they gave him the new contract.”
With appreciation a reference to the parable of the lost sheep, it would appear that Chris Holtmann and his staff have again lost the flock in mid-journey, not unlike the regrettable, forgettable season of a year ago. Only…somehow they found enough sheep during the Big Ten Tournament to rekindle hope for another season, another developmental journey, and the all-too-familiar lament that the roster is just to young and inexperienced to compete with the likes of Purdue and Wisconsin.
Ahhh…if only that were true! As it is, they’re apparently too young to compete with Nebraska and Northwestern, too!
And add Illinois to the list of wolves willing to pick off a wayward sheep or two, as the Illini quietly came to Value City Arena last week and won in all-too-familiar fashion…by twelve!
Afterwards, sophomore Roddy Gayle assured those who still have the patience, and respect enough for the chorus to listen, that this is not turning into last year’s downward spiral…just a variation on a theme at this point.
This makes seven seasons for Chris Holtmann, a good guy and one you desperately want to believe for the sake of rebuking Leo Durocher, who once famously promised…that good guys finish last!
But Holtmann, like so many other coaches in his neighborhood, has a problem, aside from the Xs and Os – one that stems from the contemporary culture of Jimmies and Joes. And it’s a culture of sports that’s not necessarily confined to basketball.
If you were to draw a comparison between Ohio State and Purdue basketball, or perhaps Bob Knight’s and Tom Izzo’s best teams, I would point to the difference in a player like Zach Edey and Draymond Green…and oh, say, any of the culture of players that are talented, but just not desperate to compete like a Draymond Green when he was at Michigan State, or now for that matter. And while you consider the comparison, consider this, too.
That it’s highly possible that every player on the Ohio State’s roster has never had to worry about making a team – in his life – prior to Ohio State! What I’m saying is that every player in college basketball has always been the biggest, or the best, and that for the most part their current situation is the first truly competitive moment in their life.
Yes, some of them have won state championships in high school, as a collective measure. But none of them have ever known the outright uncertainty of not making the team!
To further illustrate, a young coach with a talented team once asked another, older, coach what his team needed to get better.
And after considering the question, the older coach simply said, “You need a guy in your locker room that every other member of the team was deathly afraid of. Someone that would rip off your head and spit down your neck if you don’t do your job.”
The younger coach looked at the older coach like he had just blasphemed the Ten Commandments.
But it’s true. True leadership on a team comes from players who others look to follow, and trust. Zach Edey is that guy, who looks like someone you don’t want to disappoint when the ball’s in your hands and the game is on the line.
Do I think Ohio State has good players, skilled players, and players that fill a role? Yes. I think the roster is made up of great young men – men in image of Chris Holtmann.
But back to the question: What’s really wrong with Ohio State basketball? Or any sport, anywhere, for that matter?
And is Ohio State not unlike a hundred other schools, because they all draw from the same culture of athletes? And there’s that word again.
It’s hard to tell someone that we don’t demand enough from kids anymore, but who can deny it? Because we are a culture that believes that we all benefit when everyone gets a trophy. Right?
After watching them lose eight of their last nine against average Big Ten competition, let’s at least consider that it is what it is.
Can you think of another, better reason?