Ohio guard Stevie Taylor dropped by The Convo Tuesday to offer a simple “Hi, coach!” to the man sitting in the men’s basketball coach’s office. But that space no longer belongs to John Groce, who recruited Taylor and the other 12 Bobcats to Athens.
Ohio’s new leader is Jim Christian, a veteran of the Mid-American Conference sidelines who arrived in Athens three weeks ago and is breaking into his new coaching quarters. Gone are the photos of Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. — two players whom Groce recruited and mentored at Ohio State. Photos from past Bobcat squads, as well as the trophy and net from the 2010 MAC Tournament, now adorn Christian’s office.
But that’s about as nostalgic as anyone’s going to get.
“An established team is for that year. The other teams are going to get better, so I think you try to add to it if you can,” said Christian, who spent the past four seasons at Texas Christian University. “If you think you’re established, people pass you.”
Working toward another successful campaign begins at the individual level, he said. Each player must stay hungry and be willing to put in the grunt work in the offseason before any thoughts of grandeur creep in.
And just because the 2011–12 squad found success does not guarantee the recipe will stay the same next season. Christian and his newly christened staff will try to enhance the roster with an additional player because Ohio commit Caris LeVert asked for and received his release from the program.
More than half of Christian’s roster at TCU transferred from junior colleges and other NCAA Division I programs, but he said he doesn’t employ a recruiting formula that favors transfer students.
“I’m looking for the best player available who addresses our needs,” Christian said. “If it’s a high-school kid, I’d rather have a high-school kid. If it’s a four-year transfer, I love four-year transfers.”
Christian has agreed to a five-year contract worth $425,000 per year in base salary, according to Ohio Athletics officials, though he has not signed a finalized contract. He will look to build upon his impressive MAC resume that includes 138 wins and the highest career winning percentage for any coach in the conference.
He took over for Stan Heath at Kent State after the Golden Flashes made a run to the Elite Eight in 2002. Each of his six Kent State squads won at least 20 games, and he made two trips to the NCAA Tournament.
But Christian knows that neither his success nor that of the team he inherits will have an easy road back to the Big Dance. The team will have the traditional goals of MAC regular-season and tournament titles as well as eclipsing its Sweet 16 appearance.
“Once you’ve done that and you get a taste of it, like these guys have, they should have high aspirations. But if we lose focus of other goals, we’re never going to get to goal three,” he said. “Not many teams go back-to-back years. That’s a huge challenge.”