COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State’s basketball program has steadily improved in the level of talent that has come to Columbus since Chris Holtmann took over in 2017.
His classes have steadily climbed the rankings, when put into context, with each cycle leaving him with only two stones left unturned. Holtmann has yet to land a five-star recruit or put together a top-five recruiting class. Both could be accomplished by this time next year.
Close 2021 large
The Buckeyes technically only have two commitments in their class of 2021 since Meechie Johnson signed up early. So instead of his trio being a top 15 class, he dropped to 42nd place, seventh in the Big Ten. But recruiting rankings don’t mean as much in basketball as they do in soccer. It is quality that matters, and OSU has two quality options in the state.
That starts with Kalen Etzler as a three-star power forward who still needs to develop physically, but has a skill set that translates to what Ohio State wants to do offensively. It’s a stretch four whose shots can allow adequate space for Holtmann’s scoring options to operate. Imagine if Kyle Young’s three-point barrage in the first half of a 68-67 win over Michigan were routine. That’s Etzler.
Then there’s Malaki Branham, the crown jewel of the class who recently closed her career leading St. Vincent-St. Mary to a state championship with 37 points. He is expected to win the Mr. Ohio Basketball award, making him the fourth to go from best player in the state to Buckeye in the past 10 years. OSU hasn’t had a shocking freshman in the Holtmann era, and Braham could be that as a top 50 recruit.
The Buckeyes would rather add one more person. It’s obvious Ohio State’s lack of size made it difficult to match the world’s Kofi Cockburns, Luka Garzas and Hunter Dickinsons. Having to constantly fight the big boys likely played a big role in why EJ Liddell shot just 31.6 percent during the Big Ten Tournament. That’s why OSU will look to add a post player regardless of whether Kyle Young chooses to go for another year.
The first place you will look is the 2021 class, where four centers already have offers. Ohio native Logan Duncomb is committed to Indiana, and Charles Bediako is probably no longer part of the equation. That leaves Chet Holmgren and Efton Reid.
Holmgren is likely getting engaged to Gonzaga, but that OSU is on the hunt is a good sign. He is the best player in the country and one of the leading candidates to be the number one pick in the 2022 draft, but he liked the coaching staff that he attended a soccer game in 2019.
Reid is the Buckeyes’ best stage. The competition is the state of Florida, the state of North Carolina and Virginia. It would represent Holtmann’s first five-star pick as the No. 23 player and the No. 3 center.
A potential title in 2022
The recruiting parallels between Ohio State’s basketball and soccer programs are impressive. They both put together a 2021 quality class and hope the spring will grant them a five-star commitment to wrap things up. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are currently the top recruiting classes in both sports in 2022.
Ohio State already has three commitments in 2022, starting with 3-star, confident Ohio native Bowen Hardman giving the roster a reliable shooter. Bruce Thornton, Georgia’s 4-star shooting guard, followed as one of the top 60 recruits to join Johnson as the team’s second point guard. Then 4-star guard Roddy Gale Jr. joined as a top 50 pick with perks.
This is a quality group for the state of Ohio, but it is very early in the process. No other Big Ten team has more than one commitment yet. At the same time, the G-League has become an option for players who choose not to play college basketball and join the Ignite team in the NBA’s minor leagues. There were 28 five-stars in the class of 2020, and five took that G-League route, including Michigan’s only commitment, Isaiah Todd.
Things are getting exciting in 2022. There are currently 22 players rated five stars, and the only ones already committed are Eboni Bates (No. 1 player, for Michigan State) and Amari Bailey (No. 3 player, for UCLA ). It has always been thought that by 2022, players will be able to go back to the NBA straight from high school.
That potential option, plus the G-League route, brings a lot of uncertainty to the search for college talent. It could hurt OSU as Buchtel’s Chris Livingston, the No. 4 player in the class, should be a relatively easy compromise, but if it turns into a potential lottery pick, all bets are off.
Whether Livingston chooses to play college basketball or not, Ohio State’s class of 2022 is in good shape. It addresses the backcourt needs that Duane Washington Jr., Justin Ahrens and Jimmy Sotos graduate after next season.
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