ST. LOUIS - The Ohio State Buckeyes left Saturday, uncertain about the future of their superstar leader, and certain that a whirlwind of chaos will confront Evan Turner as he wrestles with the decision over whether to end his college career and jump to the NBA a year early or return to Columbus for his senior season.
Turner is Ohio State's 6-7 point guard who led the Big Ten in both scoring and rebounding this season and was the conference player of the year. Every major draft projection has Turner as a lock to be a top three pick in the NBA if he opts to leave Ohio State.
After scoring 31 points in the 76-73 NCAA tournament loss to Tennessee, a despondent Turner did not want to put a number on what his chances of returning might be.
"I can't give a percentage right now," Turner said. "This is just sticking in my head. I really don't want to go out like this. I just don't know."
Jon Diebler, Turner's roommate and teammate at Ohio State for the past three seasons, said he did not want to handicap the matter.
"I honestly don't know what Evan is going to do, but I can say for sure that one of his goals was to get this team to the Final Four, and we didn't reach that goal," Diebler said.
"I can't say that will be the deciding factor for Evan, because this is a huge decision and he'll have to consider everything, but I know he loves this team, this university, and he loves being a big part of all this. His ultimate dream, sure, is to play in the NBA, but I think there's a chance he'll be back because he's such an intense competitor, and he won't want to go out with a disappointment like this."
Turner, a favorite in many corners to win national player of the year honors, has not seen his stock drop despite the fact he fractured two bones in his lower back after crashing to the deck on a dunk against Eastern Michigan in early December. He missed a little over four weeks and returned in time to help the Buckeyes win a share of the Big Ten regular season title.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who raised a few eyebrows last year when he moved a very effective Turner from wing to the point guard position, and likely made Turner future millions in the process, said he is concerned about the outside forces that will be exerted on Turner.
"I told him 'you better hang on, because there's going to be people coming at you.' They're like vultures out there right now," Matta said following the loss to Tennessee in the Midwest Regional semifinal.
"I would venture to say that by the time we get back to the hotel, it will be a who's who trying to get to him, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it."
Matta said now that the season is over, he and Turner will discuss the issue at length and cover all the ramifications of the decision.
"I tell my young men when I recruit them that I want what's best for them," Matta said. "The challenge right now is he and I just sitting down and having a conversation about where his mind is and exactly what he wants to do. I'm going to do what's right for him and what he wants to do."
BUFORD TO RETURN: Ohio State sophomore William Buford, the Libbey graduate and last season's Big Ten freshman of the year, said after the loss to Tennessee that he will return next season.
"I've been focused on the games, and I haven't thought about any of that, not at all," Buford said. "I really haven't thought about next year, but I'm coming back. I guess it's still some shock over what happened here - over losing like this."
Buford had nine points just four minutes into the game and finished with 15 against the Volunteers. His 14.4 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game ranked second on the team in both categories behind Turner.
Buford started all 37 games this season.
FATIGUE DEBATE: Ohio State's reliance on four of its starters to play most or all of the game was a frequent topic of discussion throughout the Big Ten tournament and the Buckeyes' run to the Sweet 16.
After the loss to Tennessee, a game in which Turner, Diebler, and Buford each played all 40 minutes, the fatigue issue seemed as unresolved as ever.
"We knew that their six wouldn't be able to run with us the whole game because we had more depth, and you could tell they were tired in the second half," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said.
"Fatigue never crossed my mind," Matta said. "These guys are conditioned to roll."
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