PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Sometimes even the best-intentioned plans can be thwarted by an unexpected outcome.
On the eve of the first of two exhibition games at the Atlantis resort, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann wrote a practice-specific ending. Inside the Imperial Arena, site of the annual Battle 4 Atlantis event, Holtmann divided the Buckeyes into two equal teams and gave them a challenge. Whichever team scored the most three-pointers during a six-minute drill, five of its members will start Saturday’s game against the Egyptian national team. The losing team would then start Sunday’s game against Puerto Rico.
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Anarchy ensued. When the final buzzer sounded, both teams were at 57 apiece. No provision for a draw had been made, and while the players roared their respective arguments (Kalen Etzler had one rolling that fell after a buzzer and should count, Gray’s team claimed), a new plan was worked out. .
Eventually, Brice Sensabaugh and Colby Baumann hit shots from half court to give the Scarlet players the win and a chance to start. That means they’ll get the first shot on a team that Holtmann says features some potential two-way NBA players, but the lineup situation wasn’t on the Buckeyes’ minds when the drill began.
“I don’t think anyone cared who started and who didn’t,” Oklahoma State transfer guard Isaac Likekele said. “We just didn’t want to lose each other. Even if starting hadn’t been on the line, it would have been exactly the same energy.”
Holtmann is overseeing a team with five freshmen and three transfers while adjusting to two new full-time assistant coaches. While the goal is obviously to return home with two wins, Holtmann explained to his team the other key things the Buckeyes hope to learn about themselves.
How will they handle adversity? Who can play with whom? Perhaps most importantly, how well do you know each other?
“These are business trips,” said West Virginia transfer guard Sean McNeil, who took an overseas exhibition trip to Spain with the Mountaineers in 2019. “We’re trying to win games on Saturday and Sunday, but at At the same time have fun, build chemistry and get to know each other.”
McNeil is roommates with freshman Roddy Gayle Jr. Likekele is paired with redshirt freshman Kalen Etzler, and the two have discovered a mutual appreciation for Michael Jackson’s music. Like McNeil, Likekele took a similar trip when the state of Oklahoma visited Venice, Rome and Athens in 2018.
While in Atlantis, the Buckeyes enjoyed more than team meals together. On Friday night he was going to host a “Beach Bash” with games like cornhole. On Monday, Ohio State will hit the water on a morning catamaran cruise.
In between, they’ll play games but without veterans Justice Sueing and Seth Towns. Although both were fully active in practice Friday, they won’t be fully active until September as they progress from long-term injuries. Games will be played under FIBA rules and feature four 10-minute quarters, with Ohio State wearing their practice jerseys after handing them out on Friday for the first time all summer.
Both games will be played at 5 p.m. and neither will be streamed or televised.
As practice drew to a close, Sueing did some important additional shooting work with assistant coach Jake Diebler as the players began to make their way toward the team’s lunch. Some stayed on the court taking extra shots until Holtmann yelled, “Go enjoy the sun!”
On Saturday, they will meet again under the low lights of the ballroom and see how it goes. Likekele said that he has an idea of what it will look like.
“I just think we’re going to look like the team that plays the hardest,” he said. “I also think we will see each other as a team that is united. I think we will play very smoothly. We don’t have anyone who likes to hold the ball or any selfish player. They all share it. I think it will be good to see us play at a fast pace.”