PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Sometimes even the best-intentioned of plans can be thrown off by an unexpected result.
On the eve of the first of two exhibition games at the Atlantis resort, Ohio State men’s basketball Coach Chris Holtmann scripted a specific ending to practice. Inside the Imperial Arena, site of the annual Battle 4 Atlantis event, Holtmann divided the Buckeyes into two evenly matched teams and gave them a challenge. Whichever team made the most 3-pointers during a six-minute drill would have five of its members 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 horn sounded, both teams stood at 57 apiece. No provision had been made for a tie, and as the players roared their respective arguments – Kalen Etzler had one Rolling around that fell after a buzzer and should count, the Gray team claimed – a new plan was crafted.
Eventually, Brice Sensabaugh and walk-on Colby Baumann hit half-court shots to give Scarlet’s players the win and the chance to start. That means they’ll get first crack at a team Holtmann said features some potential two-way NBA players, but the lineup situation wasn’t atop the mind of the Buckeyes when the drill got underway.
“I don’t think anybody cared who started who didn’t,” Oklahoma State transfer guard Isaac Likekele said. “We just didn’t want to lose to each other. Even if starting hadn’t been on the line, it would’ve been the exact same energy.”
Holtmann is overseeing a team featuring five freshmen and three transfers while adjusting to two new full-time assistant coaches. While the goal is obviously to return home with two victories, Holtmann spelled out to his team the other key things the Buckeyes hope to start learning about themselves.
How will they handle adversity? Who can play with whom? Perhaps most importantly: how well do they know each other?
“These are business trips,” West Virginia transfer guard Sean McNeil, who took a foreign exhibition trip to Spain with the Mountaineers in 2019. “We’re trying to win games Saturday and Sunday but at the same time have fun, build team Chemistry and get to know one another.”
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 the music of Michael Jackson. Like McNeil, Likekele has taken a similar trip when Oklahoma State visited Venice, Rome and Athens in 2018.
While at Atlantis, the Buckeyes have enjoyed more than team meals together. Friday night was to feature a “Beach Bash” with games such as cornhole. Monday will see Ohio State take to 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 Friday’s practice, they won’t be fully activated until September as they progress from long-term injuries. The games will be played by FIBA rules and feature four 10-minute quarters, and Ohio State will wear its practice jerseys after donning them Friday for the first time all summer.
Both games will be played at 5 pm and neither will be streamed or televised.
When practice came to a close, Sueing put in significant extra shooting work with Assistant Coach Jake Diebler as players started to make their way towards a team lunch. Some remained on the court getting up extra shots until Holtmann called out, “Go enjoy the sun!”
Saturday, they’ll reconvene under the low-hanging Ballroom lights and see how they fare. Likekele said he’s got an idea of what it will look like.
“I just think we’ll look like the hardest-playing team,” he said. “I also think we’ll look like a team that’s together. I think we’ll play with a lot of fluidity. We don’t have anybody that just likes to hold the ball or any selfish players. Everybody shares it. I think it’ll be nice to see us play with a fast pace.”