Diebler excited where OSU basketball program is headed

A few months into his first year as a college basketball head coach, Jake Diebler identified the most challenging part about transitioning from being an assistant.

“Making a lot more decisions,” he told reporters in Columbus on Monday. “As an assistant coach, you have the luxury that almost all of your ideas are good. Part of the time you don’t even get to know if it would work or not, right? You just get to assume they were great ideas and you’ve got hindsight and things.”

Diebler was named permanent head coach at Ohio State on March 17.

Prior to that, he led the Buckeyes to a 6-2 mark after replacing Chris Holtmann.

A frenetic spring followed his promotion as players came and went via the transfer portal, and Diebler sees that as a new feature of the college basketball calendar that is not going away.

Like his predecessor, he will have to learn on the fly how to adjust, but Diebler has the advantage of seeing the first few years of the portal era play out, and that’s not all.

“I think there’s value in I haven’t been a head coach for a long time,” said the 37-year-old who entered coaching in 2009 as a graduate assistant at Valparaiso. “I’m not set in these certain types of ways maybe the way it used to be. I’m old school in nature in some things, but I’m excited about where the landscape is heading.”

That includes colleges paying players directly for the first time with funds from the athletics department, something that could happen next year after the details of a lawsuit settlement are worked out.

“I’m excited about Ohio State helping lead that way,” he said. “So we’ll see what happens. Not a lot of details yet, but we’ll embrace it and see where we are this time next year.

“I’m very confident we’re going to be leaders in this space, and it’s exciting.”

His predecessor came to Ohio State in 2017 with a reputation for being able to coach up different types of squads in previous stops at Butler and Gardner-Webb, but Holtmann seemed to struggle with roster construction on an annual basis.

That process underwent tremendous change during Holtmann’s tenure, but Diebler indicated he is ready to embrace the new reality college coaches face.

Like his University of Dayton counterpart Anthony Grant, the new Ohio State head coach sees college basketball teams being built just year to year from now on.

“I anticipate us always having a balance bringing in high school players and complementing the roster with transfers and certainly impactful transfers, but it’s hard for me to see a time right now of the days of having five-man freshman classes,” said Diebler, who is bringing in freshmen guard John Mobley Jr. of Reynoldsburg and swingman Colin White of Ottawa-Glandorf. “You may have some years when that is necessary, but you’re more trying to project how much impact a guy can have that year. If it’s freshmen, great. If you need transfers for that, fine. But development is still really, really important to me. We still want guys who can develop in our program, and I think we’ve got some guys on our roster who, you’re gonna see that.”

For the year ahead, Diebler will be working to blend returning point guard Bruce Thornton with transfer Meechie Johnson, who actually began his career at Ohio State before blossoming at South Carolina.

He will also be trying to unlock the potential of 7-foot-1 Aaron Bradshaw and 6-9 Sean Stewart, five-star post recruits in the class of 2023 who are transferring in from Kentucky and Duke, respectively.

“Knowing what college basketball looks like and feels like will be valuable,” Diebler said of Bradshaw and Stewart, who played in 26 and 33 games, respectively, last season but averaged 4.9 and 2.6 points.

“Both of those guys work really hard, and that’s why I’m confident they’re going to be able to make the jump, but I also like the fact we have a more veteran backcourt, and I think that will help them make the transition, too, from maybe a more limited role to a significantly increased role,” Diebler said. “They’re very talented players. Two McDonald’s All-Americans on our roster is certainly a very good thing for us, but we’ve got really good veterans in our backcourt that I think will help that transition for them.”