Will They Stay Or Will They Go?

Mullens might be headed to the NBA.

The impact of having lost four players to the NBA Draft in the past two seasons has been felt by Ohio State for the entire 2008-09 season. Now that the year is in the books, the next three players with the potential to add their names to the list weigh in on what their decisions might be.

DAYTON – For the third year in a row, the questions started flying immediately after Ohio State's season came to an end.

Who is staying, and who will be going early to the NBA? A program that has been decimated by early departures to the tune of four in two years now faces an offseason where three players are widely viewed as potential NBA draft picks this summer.

B.J. Mullens, Evan Turner and William Buford all are projected as candidates to be the next players to make the leap to the pros. Buckeye fans hoping for some or all of them to return might be best to sing a few bars from Meat Loaf's 1977 hit "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad."

Of the three, Mullens seems the most likely to depart. A 7-footer who would be drafted more on potential than anything else, the freshman is the only Buckeye listed on NBADraft.net's mock draft as of March 16. That site has him pegged as the No. 18 pick in the draft and going to Minnesota.

In his team's locker room immediately following OSU's double-overtime loss to Siena in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Mullens said he will sit down with his family and contemplate his decision.

"I know (my future) is definitely going to hold something good when I decide what I'm going to do," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to do yet. I'll definitely let you know when I find out."

The fact that his final college game was a two-point loss in double overtime might have an impact on his decision, he said.

On a roster with no seniors, the Buckeyes have the potential to return their entire 2008-09 roster for next season – a situation Mullens said he was aware of.

"I'm going to do what's best for me and what's best for my family," he said. "It's definitely going to hurt if I do decide to leave. We're all family here. We're like brothers. We've been through a lot of stuff."

As the lone sophomore of the trio, Turner said he feels Mullens will return but said he wishes him the best if he does not.

"B.J., I'm sure he'll be back," Turner said. "We'll do what we have to do if he doesn't, but I'm sure he'll be back. I'm sure he likes college. You're going to get better. You can never get mad getting better. The money is always going to be there.

"If he doesn't come back, more power to him. He's been a soldier his whole life, and just to get to the point where he is now is just amazing. I'm really proud of him. I love him regardless."

For the season, Mullens averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He was voted the Big Ten's sixth man of the year and he led the conference in field-goal percentage (63.4).

Viewed by many as a sure-fire lottery pick for much of the year, Mullens' stock might have slipped as the season wore on. That could impact the bottom line, his coach said.

"I think that he's got a lot of room to grow," OSU head coach Thad Matta said. "We talk to the guys every day and I think that it's a situation where I hope he comes back, but by the same token I think he's got to do what's best for him. I think that if he comes back and makes the commitment to the work to get better – he knows there's a payday, but coming back for a year could be about an $8 million difference."

Turner was the lone unanimous pick for first-team all-league honors, and he led the Buckeyes in nearly every important category: points (17.3 per game), rebounds (7.1 per game), assists (131) and steals (58) while playing a number of key roles.

With a tough-to-defend ability to get to the basket as well as a blend of size and speed that would endear him to NBA teams, Turner's draft status consistently rose as he blossomed into a premier player this year.

However, Turner said he plans to stick around because there is plenty of unfinished business for him and his classmates.

"My plan is to have a good offseason, gain 10 pounds, come back and win a Big Ten championship, a Big Ten tournament championship and an NCAA championship," he said. "My teammates and I didn't want to come here and just do four years for no reason. We wanted to come here and leave a legacy of winning. That's why you play the game."

Asked if that means he is returning for his junior year, Turner smiled and replied, "Of course. I love the scarlet and gray."

Matta said he was pleased to think about his most valuable player coming back for another season but added that he will talk things over with Turner.

"I think that Evan has a tremendous future, not only at Ohio State but someday (in the NBA)," he said. "When that comes there's areas he's got to keep growing at but we've got to take a look at it for him. We always do what's best for our guys."

Then there is Buford, the league's freshman of the year. With a deadly mid-range jumper, Buford finished the year second on the team in scoring (11.3 per game) and connected on 44.8 percent of his shots.

Buford said he plans to return for his sophomore season so he can win the league's defensive player of the year award.

Plenty of things can change between now and the April 26 deadline for underclassmen to declare themselves for the draft, but it looks like at least two big pieces to the OSU puzzle plan on returning for next season.

Half-jokingly, Matta said he plans on sitting down and talking to more than just Mullens, Turner and Buford about their future plans.

"The way my luck's going, I'm going to talk to the entire team," he said. "We may throw everybody in the draft and just go from there."

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