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Holtmann ready to take on big challenge at DePaul and restore once-proud program

CHICAGO (AP) — Chris Holtmann considered sitting out at least a year and working in media after Ohio State fired him last month.

The opportunity to restore a once-proud program as DePaul's new coach was one he couldn't pass up. And he insisted he is ready for the challenge.

“We've got a great opportunity,” Holtmann said. “We came here as a family because we really do believe in what this place can be. We really do.”

The 52-year-old Holtmann was introduced Monday at a news conference at Wintrust Arena after being hired last week, a month after Ohio State fired him. He comes with a 251-171 record with seven NCAA Tournament appearances in 13 seasons at Gardner-Webb, Butler and Ohio State.

Holtmann led the Bulldogs to the tourney in each of his three years there and was widely viewed as a rising star in the coaching ranks when he took the job at Ohio State in 2017 after Thad Matta stepped down due to health reasons. He led the Buckeyes to a 137-86 record and four NCAA appearances.

Holtmann was Coach of the Year in the Big East and the Big Ten. But he's taking on a big task.

DePaul hasn't made the NCAA Tournament in 20 years and just finished one of the worst seasons in Big East history. The Blue Demons went 3-29 overall and became the first team to go 0-20 in league play. Former coach Tony Stubblefield was fired in January after two-plus seasons.

DePaul has lost 34 of 35 Big East games, counting the conference tournament. Stubblefield was 28-54 overall and 9-38 in the league.

Athletic director DeWayne Peevy said he had his eyes on Holtmann when he worked in Kentucky's athletic department prior to getting hired by DePaul in August 2020. One of five finalists, Holtmann is the second men's basketball coach hired by Peevy.

“I don't feel any pressure any more than what I put on myself and the opportunity to build a program," Peevy said. “I came here from Kentucky to win. You take the steps forward, you learn lessons and you push forward. I think if you want to be a true leader, you have to get people around you that can help you accomplish something big."

Peevy joked “Ohio State just saved me a buyout” by firing Holtmann.

“When he was let go, I wasn't looking at it as a deterrent for me,” Peevy said. “OK, this got a lot easier. I gave him some time. I didn't reach out to him right away, want to be respectful. But I did contact his agent to tell him that this doesn't matter to me, that I'm very interested.”

The Blue Demons have not played in the NCAA Tournament since 2004. They have finished with a losing record in Big East play in all but one season since entering the league in 2005 and wound up last in the conference for the 12th time in 16 years.

It's a far cry from the days when the “Little School Under the L” made annual NCAA appearances and ruled winters in Chicago under Hall of Fame coach Ray Meyer and his son Joey.

Holtmann got a bird's eye view of the challenges DePaul faced when he was at Butler. But the situation isn't the same.

DePaul has gone from playing at Allstate Arena in suburban Rosemont, Illinois, to a sparkling home at Wintrust Arena in Chicago's South Loop, seven miles from the school's main campus. A new practice facility for the men's and women's basketball teams is in the works. And there's a fertile recruiting ground right in the school's backyard.

“I always felt like it could be a program that could have real sustained success," Holtmann said. "And I would ask people maybe who knew the situation better than me, ‘Hey, explain this to me.’ I know there are some challenges. ... But I think it's in a place right now, given their commitments to a practice facility, what they have done with this place, and I think just the passion and the hunger right now — I think it's the right time for our family to be here.”

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball