Make it three in a row for Thad Matta.
For the third consecutive year, the Ohio State head coach will say goodbye to a 7-foot freshman center as he heads out the door to the NBA. In an statement issued Thursday afternoon, B.J. Mullens declared his intent to follow the path laid before him by Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos and said goodbye to his Buckeye teammates.
“After long consideration I have decided to enter my name in the 2009 NBA Draft,” Mullens said. “This was not an easy choice because I love The Ohio State University but the many positive reasons for moving on outweigh the many good reasons for staying.”
Although he finished the year averaging 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, Mullens struggled to achieve consistency throughout his lone season in Columbus. Unlike Koufos and Oden, Mullens started just two games and earned the Big Ten’s sixth man of the year award.
Despite his lack of steady play, Mullens’ blend of size and raw potential has had him pegged as a lottery pick since before he ever set foot on OSU’s campus. ESPN projects him as a lottery selection but also pegs him as going at No. 19 in the 2009 NBA Draft.
Matta expressed his regret at seeing another big man leave his program so quickly, and in doing so indicated that he too feels that Mullens could benefit from another year at the collegiate level.
“I am saddened to lose B.J.,” Matta said. “I feel another year in school would have allowed him to develop into the player I know he can be and an additional season would have been beneficial to him both personally and monetarily in the long run.”
“On the other hand, I am empathetic to the reasons why he has chosen to leave at such an early point in his career. I wish him nothing but the best and know he will always be a part of our basketball family at Ohio State.”
After OSU’s season-ending loss March 20 to Siena in the NCAA Tournament, Mullens said he would have to make the best decision for himself and his family. After saying that a double-overtime loss in the tournament would weigh into his decision, Mullens said he would consult his family and friends before making a decision.
“I’m going to pray on it, and hopefully God gives me an answer,” he said in the locker room.
Matta, who has now lost five freshmen to the NBA in the last three seasons, has always supported his players’ desire to play professionally even at the expense of his own program.
While his team played in the same city as the Buckeyes during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino weighed on Mullens and urged him to stick around for another year.
“I heard last night that B.J. Mullens was going to go pro,” Pitino said. “(That would) be the worst move the young man could ever make, because he's going to be a terrific pro. But sitting on an NBA bench during the course of the season . . . If you're an NBA coach, you're not worried about that 10th, 11th, 12th man in developing him, you're worried about winning and surviving as a coach.”
Despite his obvious need to improve his game and become a better player, Mullens now finds himself in a position to do so while being paid handsomely for it. A work in progress, he will take that work to the next level.
“I would like to thank The Ohio State University, its faculty and staff, along with Coach Matta for the opportunity to attend school and play basketball here,” Mullens said. “I would also like to thank all my Buckeye coaches and teammates for their guidance and friendship, not only this season, but also in the time since 2004 when I first committed to play at OSU.”
Despite the loss of Mullens, the Buckeyes will return all five of their starters from this year’s team with the news that Evan Turner will not be headed to the NBA.