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Jake Diebler wants to create an ‘aggressive, confident, tough’ identity for Ohio State in his first year as head coach

Jake Diebler wants to create an ‘aggressive, confident, tough’ identity for Ohio State in his first year as head coach

It’s true that Jake Diebler has had plenty of opportunities to describe his vision for Ohio State basketball, and he has done so at several points, not least when he was first promoted to full-time head coach. But on Tuesday, he answered a question that prompted him to delve deeper into the specific identity he’s trying to establish.

“I want people to see an aggressive, confident, tough team,” Diebler said. “And a team that’s having fun and playing with joy. That’s one of our values ​​here: joy. When we walk through this building and we have the resources that we have and everything, we’re going to operate with a sense of joy and pride in what we do. And I think our fans will see that.”

Whether it’s pushing the pace, battling on the glass or increasing the overall intensity of training, that’s the team Diebler is trying to put together this summer: an energetic, confident and resilient group.

Not everything went according to plan for Diebler and his team this summer.

Most of the setbacks have been injury-related. Sophomore guard Taison Chatman, a projected bench player for Ohio State’s backcourt, suffered a season-ending torn ACL in June. Diebler added that several players have dealt with “lingering” ailments that have slowed their progress over the summer.

But he has seen connections form between the six remaining scholarships from last year’s team, four new players added through the transfer portal and two new freshmen who make up his first roster.

“As far as what we’re doing on the field, other than just having everybody together consistently, it’s been great,” Diebler said. “We’ve introduced some offensive stuff, some defensive concepts, and we’ve established a foundation. But most importantly, I think we’re creating chemistry, which is good to see.”

Much has been made of Ohio State’s increased speed under Diebler since he took over for Chris Holtmann in February. The Buckeyes went from scoring fewer than six fast break points per game under Holtmann to 11.7 per game in their 11 matchups under Diebler. But it all stems from that aggressive mindset he wants to instill.

“We’re going to be aggressive. I want guys to play with confidence,” Diebler said. “We’re going to have some toughness. There’s definitely going to be some pace involved. That’s in my DNA. I think that’s well documented. But yeah. We’re working towards it, building towards it little by little.”

An element of playing up-tempo and aggressively is having multiple players who can make plays in the open floor, whether that’s driving to the rack, distributing or shooting from the outside. Diebler challenged multiple Buckeyes to grow their game in new areas this summer, and it’s part of his plan to develop a 3-point threat with his team this winter.

“I want guys to try things in the summer,” Diebler said. “I want them to fail a little bit and then have success and gain confidence. I think that’s what you get from live reps.”

Another element of aggressiveness and hard play for Diebler is rebounding. It’s an area where the Buckeyes could use some improvement, as they ranked 92nd nationally in rebounds per game (37.1), but 218th in offensive rebounds allowed (10.4).

Ohio State lost its top three rebounders from last year in Felix Okpara, Jamison Battle and Roddy Gayle Jr. Evan Mahaffey, who pulled down 4.2 rebounds per game last year, is the top returner. However, center Aaron Bradshaw and power forward Sean Stewart should provide assistance from the transfer portal. Both played limited roles last year but put up impressive numbers, with Bradshaw averaging 9.6 rebounds per 40 minutes while Stewart grabbed 15.3, a number higher than Okpara’s rate in 2023-24. Likewise, sophomore forward Devin Royal averaged 8.4 rebounds per 40 minutes.

“We’ve definitely been recruiting for that,” Diebler said. “(Bradshaw) will help, he’ll help with that. Sean Stewart, looking at some of the analytics behind his minutes and his rebounding in his minutes is elite. … Evan’s going to be a big piece going forward. … Part of it is a mentality as well. We want to be aggressive on offense and also on rebounding. So we’ve got to work on that. We’ve got to keep getting better at it. But I think he has the potential to be a real strength for us.”

As the summer progresses, Diebler will work hard to further build Ohio State’s identity and chemistry, with self-imposed high expectations for his first season.

“What’s really impressed me is that our group, collectively, has found ways to use their voices even when they’re maybe not practicing or anything,” Diebler said. “So that chemistry is still forming. There are ways to do that, we’ve talked about that. We do some things off the court to help with that. So that part hasn’t been a problem.”