NEWARK, N.J. – Ohio State will lose three key contributors and five seniors next season, but as of now the Buckeyes look set to keep two key underclassmen.
In the immediate aftermath of OSU’s 62-60 Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky, freshman forward Jared Sullinger and junior guard William Buford both said they intend to return to the program next season.
“I’m coming back next year,” Sullinger said while seated on a trainer’s table surrounded by reporters. “I’m coming back next year because I have to work on a lot of things and I don’t like the taste that I just had.
“I don’t appreciate losing. I never appreciate losing and I’m going to come back to win.”
Echoing Sullinger’s words, Buford said the manner in which the Buckeyes lost fuels his desire to return next season.
“I’m tired of getting put out (of the tournament) early,” he said.
Last season, the Buckeyes bowed out of the tournament with a loss to Tennessee in the Sweet 16. One year before that, it was a first-round exit at the hands of Siena.
However, the junior did not rule out putting his name in for the draft to test the waters. Underclassmen have until April 24 to decide to put their names into the draft and have until May 8 to withdraw without affecting their collegiate eligibility.
“I don’t know,” Buford said of that possibility. “I’ll talk to my coaches and my family, but as of right now, I’ll be coming back.”
One source close to Buford told BuckeyeSports.com during the season that Buford was planning to head to the NBA. Sullinger has repeatedly said he does not want to leave OSU until he brings a national championship to the program.
“He told me from Day One he'd be back for two years," head coach Thad Matta said. “He said, ‘Draw me up a contract, whatever you want me to do, I'll sign it.’ With him, his freshman year was as good as I've ever seen a freshman have. I think all the things he learned this year, with a great off-season, I have no doubt he'll be the best player in college basketball.”
Named the national freshman of the year, Sullinger said he will not put his name into the draft to test the waters.
“I’ll be in an Ohio State jersey next year,” he said. “It’s my personal choice and I want to come back and serve this basketball team and play for (head coach Thad) Matta.”
Sullinger led the Buckeyes in scoring (17.2) and rebounding (10.2). Buford was second in scoring at 14.4 per game and added 3.9 rebounds per game.
In a mock draft on NBADraft.net, Sullinger is the No. 5 overall pick, going to the Toronto Raptors. Buford checks in at No. 19 to Washington. Meanwhile, fifth-year senior forward David Lighty is projected to go 38th overall to Houston in the second round.
“Jared loves Ohio State,” said freshman guard Aaron Craft, who also played AAU basketball with Sullinger. “He’s a competitor as well. He’s just as upset about this as all of us are. I’m happy he’s decided that he wants to come back, but we’ve got a lot of ground to make up with the people we lose this year.”
In addition, OSU loses Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, Nikola Kecman and walk-on Eddie Days.
“We know where we’re going tomorrow,” Sullinger said. “They don’t. That’s tough on their part, knowing they’re not coming back to this basketball team.”