In any sport, momentum is key. In college athletics, while winning games is vitally important, winning on the recruiting trail is also needed to have continued success. ((I mean, the better recruits and players you have, the better chance you have to win games, right?)) A coach is not only judged by how many games he or she wins, but how they do in terms of recruiting, especially in terms of keeping in-state talent close to home.
Less than a month after they (surprisingly) made a run to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament after being projected by many to be one of the worst teams in the Big Ten, Chris Holtmann’s Ohio State Buckeyes carried the momentum from the season into his first full offseason with the Buckeyes. That became evident when 2019 five-star forward Alonzo Gaffney committed to the scarlet and gray, Sonny Johnson, his head coach at Garfield Heights high school, announced on Twitter.
Wow !!!! @alonzo_gaffney the #1 player n Ohio & top 25 players n the country Just committed to OHIO STATE.Alonzo was being recruited by BLUE BLOODS like Michigan St, North Carolina & Kansas #O.H.I.O @BillLandis25 @AdamJardy @OhioStateHoops @mgoul @NEO_Spotlight @ZachFleer270 pic.twitter.com/7B5Cfk9Geu
— Sonny Johnson (@sonnyjohnson32) April 10, 2018
The second Holtmann stepped foot in Columbus as the head coach of the Buckeyes, he made it known that landing the top prospects in the state of Ohio was vital for his program.
“Ohio will be paramount to our success. There’s no question,” the head coach said during his introductory press conference. “We’re going to work extremely hard to close our borders and dominate the state of Ohio in recruiting. It will be an every day focus for us.”
With his first commitment this offseason, he has done just that (and then some).
Gaffney is not only the No. 1-ranked Ohio prospect in the 2019 class, but the 6-foot-9 forward is also the 18th-ranked player in the country and No. 3 power forward as well, according to 247Sports’ Composite Rankings. It’s not like Ohio State didn’t have competition in trying to get Ohio’s top-rated player in 2019. Gaffney also held offers from programs such as Florida, Kansas, Louisville, and Michigan State, just to name a few. He’s not only a great commitment to start Holtmann and company’s first full offseason with the Buckeyes, but it will most likely lead to plenty of greener pastures as well.
When Thad Matta was let go by Ohio State, there seemed to be two main reasons why: His teams were struggling on the hardwood and he seemed to somewhat lose his touch on the recruiting trail as well. Not only was he not getting some of the top talent across the country like he once did when he first came to Columbus, but Matta was also losing out on the top talent in Ohio, which hurt the most. Prior to Ohio’s No. 1 ranked player, Kaleb Wesson, committing to the Buckeyes with Matta still at the helm,1 he missed out on the top-seven Ohio players in 2016.2 It wasn’t just that though, he was also picking the wrong talent from some in-state kids as well.
Although Ohio State is a football school, there was once a time that Matta lured top talents such as Greg Oden, Michael Conley, D’Angelo Russell, and in-state talent like Jared Sullinger. Before Gaffney, Sully was the last five-star Ohio prospect to commit to Ohio State, which was in 2010. Between 2010 and now, the Buckeyes had missed out on six five-star recruits from Ohio. Those times not only seem far too long ago, but the Buckeyes continued to miss out on the top talent like those four, both around the country and in the state. Even though the majority of Ohio State fans will always love (and miss) Matta, Holtmann has already proven that times have changed. Gaffney is not only the top-rated commit Holtmann has ever had, but he’s the highest-rated recruit to commit to Ohio State since Russell did so in 2014.
Getting a commitment from the top player in Ohio in the class of 2019 is important, but it’s not just that. Other recruits see that Holtmann and company were able to land such a talented player and will take notice, especially those that call Ohio home. It will make every player and coach in Ohio, including the most talented ones, realize that Holtmann has put the Buckeyes back on the map. Buckeye Nation, like their head coach, knows how important it is to keep the top-ranked talent inside the state’s boundaries, a commitment from a talent like Gaffney will just further cement that idea and make it easier to recruiting other top-rated prospects, especially in-state talent.
Not only does it put the players and coaches in Ohio on notice, but the commitment also sets up a pipeline, one that connects Ohio State to northeast Ohio, specifically a high school that has produced plenty of Division I talent over the years in Garfield Heights. You hear about recruiting pipelines a lot in football, but the same goes for basketball as well. Keep in mind, Garfield Heights also has Sonny’s son, Meechie, who is one of the top-rated freshman in the state of Ohio. Meechie already holds an offer from the Buckeyes, which further proves that Holtmann and his staff are recruiting the top in-state talent as early as possible in the process.
Sonny knows how important it is to keep the top-rated kids in Ohio in the state as well as establishing a pipeline. He loves the idea of them attending school in Columbus, too.
“There’s nothing like being in the state of Ohio, having your family and friends come and watch you play. When you do something at the Ohio State University, that’s special,” he told cleveland.com’s Bill Landis. “I always look at what Ted Ginn did at Glenville, sending his players there and having that pipeline helping build Ohio State football up. That pipeline is very important, especially for kids in Northeast Ohio and the Cleveland area.”
“Anytime you can get the top kid in the state of Ohio to stay home, that’s a win-win,” Garfield Heights coach Sonny Johnson said. “It says that Ohio State, for kids in the state of Ohio, is the place to be.”
One of the biggest criticism’s of Matta and his staff was the fact that they waited to long to go all-in and offer an in-state recruit. With Gaffney committing to Ohio State four months before he begins his senior year of high school, it’s evident that Holtmann learned from that. It paid off for the head coach, too.
After committing to the Buckeyes, Gaffney had one simple message for the rest of the top-rated talent in Ohio in the future.
“I feel like it should send a really big message for Ohio guys, just to help build the program, help Ohio State win the national championship, bring one back home,” he told the Columbus Dispatch’s Adam Jardy
This past season proved that Holtmann revitalized the Buckeyes on the court, and a commitment like the one from Gaffney proves that the head coach has revitalized Ohio State on the recruiting trail as well, especially in terms of the top in-state talent. Last June, there seemed to be plenty of questions surrounding the Buckeyes on the hardwood after losing arguably the best coach in program history. Ten months later, Holtmann and company seem to have Ohio State in a very, very good place, and things only seem to be getting better both on and off the court. What a 10 months it’s been for Holtmann and his staff. It’s been impressive, to say the least.