ROSEMONT, Ill. — Being a freshman, D.J. Carton was not among the Ohio State players invited to attend the Big Ten’s annual preseason basketball media day last week.
But a few of his fans were there.
The former Bettendorf High School star recently was voted the Big Ten’s preseason freshman of the year in an unofficial poll conducted by the Columbus Dispatch and The Athletic.
And Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann, who was at media day, said it’s not outlandish at all to think that Carton is going to someday be a star in the league. In just the first few days of practice, he has seen how athletic and explosive the 6-foot-2 guard can be on the court.
“I’m really excited about him,’’ Holtmann said. “He’s a talented kid … I’m just glad he’s a Buckeye.’’
That being said, Holtmann isn’t entirely sure Carton will be the postseason freshman of the year simply because there is no guarantee he will start for the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes also have 6-1 junior C.J. Walker, who was Florida State’s starting point guard in 2017-18 and who sat out last season after transferring to Ohio State.
Holtmann admitted he’s not sure which player will start at the point. He plans to let things play out in practice in the coming weeks. Either way, he knows he is going to have two extremely effective point guards on his roster.
He said the solution to what has become a very pleasant problem may be to play them both at the same time.
“We're in constant evaluation mode,’’ Holtmann said. “I think that position, it's exciting to us because we have some experience obviously in C.J. Walker, and in D.J. Carton, a young guy who is really gifted. We'll play those two together, as well. We don't always look at it as an either-or situation. I think there will definitely be times when they play together.’’
Walker has been guarding Carton much of the time in practice and has seen firsthand how hard it is to stay in front of his younger teammate.
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“We both have a lot of similarities in our game,’’ Walker said. “We’re both lefthanded, we’re both able to get other players involved and score the ball at the same time. I think we’re going to help each other out in the long run. With my experience, I can help him in certain ways and there are other ways I can learn from him as well.’’
Holtmann said one of the Buckeyes’ biggest problems in an up-and-down 20-15 season a year ago was scoring. They struggled in halfcourt situations and he would like them to be more of a transition-oriented team that can manufacture points with some easy baskets.
He said that’s the biggest reason he recruited Carton, who can fly up and down the court and dunk better than almost any point guard around.
Walker said he thinks having two quick point guards playing side-by-side could create a transition nightmare for opponents.
“Both of us are really explosive in the open court, we’re really fast, being able to make smart decisions as well,’’ he said. “I think that’s going to really help our team out to score in transition. It’s really hard to score against a set defense sometimes so playing in transition it’s going to be really good to have both of us playing at the same time.’’
“He’s got other parts of his game that he can work off of,’’ Holtmann said.
Although Carton occasionally was streaky as a perimeter shooter in high school — he shot only 33.3 percent from 3-point range as a senior — Holtmann thinks the freshman can contribute in that area, too.
“He’s a better shooter than I think people probably have given him credit for,’’ Holtmann said, “but he’s so explosive. Getting from one point to the next, he’s so explosive so people are naturally going to try to play underneath him and make him make shots.’’
Bottom line, he sees a future star, regardless of what sort of preseason or postseason accolades come his way right now.
“He’s just got to continue to grow and develop,’’ Holtmann said. “I think he’s got tremendous ability. He’s got to understand what this game is about, how hard it is. But he’s definitely got that potential for sure.’’