COLUMBUS, Ohio — If the results on the basketball recruiting trail for Ohio State didn’t give it away, the patchy spot of hair on the back of the head of Chris Holtmann would have.
This is a stressful offseason for the Buckeyes and their second-year coach, but he’s doing everything he can to maximize every minute of it.
Graduate transfers and transcripts. Commitments for next season and building relationships for the future. Offseason workouts and individual drills. A new puppy at home dealing with kennel cough — and a wife who wanted to make sure that her husband’s hair falling out wasn’t a sign of other health concerns.
“My wife said to me the other day, ‘I’ve never seen you this consumed and busy with recruiting,’ ” Holtmann said. “I think she says it every offseason, though.
“Incidentally, I did just see a doctor because I have a patch of hair falling out in the back of my head. He said it’s stress related, so we’ll see if that grows back. Don’t show it too closely.”
It might be a good idea to skip the closer inspection of Holtmann’s head for the time being. But putting his work under the microscope this offseason only solidifies the belief that he has Ohio State firmly back on track to return as a national contender.
The remarkable turnaround he engineered on the court last season while unexpectedly leading the Buckeyes to the second round of the NCAA Tournament was already proof of that, of course. But now he’s putting that same energy to use on the recruiting trail, and this week alone he’s added CJ Walker as a transfer from Florida State to bolster his back court and picked up a huge commitment from Ohio’s top-rated 2019 recruit in Alonzo Gaffney.
Neither of those guys can help Ohio State this coming season, which is why Holtmann’s jam-packed schedule hasn’t been cleared yet. He’s still searching for at least one graduate transfer, likely a guard, and has the ability to add a second if there’s a good fit. And he’s in the middle of the compressed, crazy process that it takes to land a player on that market.
“It’s a kind of more extreme version of recruiting,” Holtmann said. “Smaller timeline. Quicker a guy becomes available and you’re flying out to see him the next day once you get his release. You are at 10 right away on a scale of 1 to 10. You are in hot pursuit, and it’s very, very competitive.
“In this one, you’re meeting with them within the first week that they become available, face to face. You’re setting up a visit after that one-on-one meeting. It could all be done after two or three weeks. It’s that quick.”
It’s not just the speedy turnaround that makes pursuing graduate transfers complicated, although that adds to the stress level.
First, Ohio State has to get a release from a potential graduate transfer. It also needs a transcript to find out if he can even get into a graduate program at a university that has higher standards for admission than most of the competitors vying for those fifth-year guys.
In some respects, the Buckeyes might have a general idea of who might become available. Some schools keep rolling lists of potential graduates throughout the season, and sometimes a high school or AAU coach will reach out to let teams know that a player might be graduating and looking for a new team in the offseason. But nothing can be done until that clearance is official, and that’s when everything kicks into high gear.
With Ohio State in the mix for about a half dozen candidates for two roster spots, Holtmann doesn’t have time to waste. And the good news for the Buckeyes is that he has plenty to sell.
“I certainly think that our season played a positive role in some of the recruiting momentum that we might be experiencing right now,” Holtmann said. “But you can’t just have positive momentum and not put in the daily work that our coaching staff has done an outstanding job of doing. … What I think maybe it’s given is some young people that we’re recruiting a vision of what we could potentially look like.
“It’s been exciting, but you’re so much on the grind still. April has become an extremely busy month for coaches. Extremely busy. You’re gone more than the season, you’re busier more than the season. The stress level is not quite the same, but it’s stressful.”
Holtmann has some physical proof of that on the back of his head.
But it’s starting to look like it’s going to be worth it for the future of his program.