ST. LOUIS – Throughout his Ohio State career, Evan Turner has said he wants to be remembered for accomplishing big things.
Now he literally has a chance to put his money where his mouth is. The junior guard for scored 31 points in a Sweet 16 contest with Tennessee, but it was not enough as the Buckeyes dropped a 76-73 decision.
Immediately, the attention turned to Turner and his future. The Big Ten’s player of the year and a leading candidate for national player of the year honors, Turner is widely projected as one of the top potential NBA draft picks should he decide to go pro.
After the game, however, Turner said he could not put a percentage on his chances of returning for one more year in Columbus.
“I can’t give a percentage right now,” he said. “This is just sticking in my head. I really don’t want to go out like that. I don’t even know.”
Turner and junior forward David Lighty spoke only at a podium and were not made available for individual interviews.
Sophomore guard William Buford, also a candidate to head to the NBA, said he plans on returning for his junior season and said Turner is aware of that fact.
“He knows I’m coming back,” Buford said. “That’s up to him if he wants to do that. It’s his future. He knows I’m coming back.”
Asked if he felt he would have people in his ear telling him to turn pro, Buford said, “Probably, but I only listen to me. I’ve got my own mind. We’ve got a real good team coming in next year. I’m going to try to soak this up and go on to next year.”
During his tenure at OSU, Turner has helped capture an NIT title as a freshman and then led the Buckeyes back into the NCAA Tournament as a sophomore only to fall to Siena in a first-round overtime loss.
This year’s team captured a share of the Big Ten regular-season title and won the conference’s postseason tournament. In the process, OSU established itself as one of the top contenders for the national championship.
His final two shot attempts came as he tried to knot the score in the final seconds, but neither three-pointer found the bottom of the net. After drawing contact but no foul with about two seconds left in the game, he remained lying on the floor for a moment before picking himself up and walking directly to the team’s locker room.
Junior guard Jon Diebler was asked if the way the season ended would make it more likely for Turner to return.
“I think so, because he’s a competitor and he hates losing,” said Diebler, who is also Turner’s roommate. “He knows how far we could’ve gotten this year. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Yeah, we got to the Sweet 16 but as a group we had higher expectations.”
Senior guard P.J. Hill, who served as Turner’s seldom-used backup this season, said he thinks Turner will return for another year.
“He said he’s coming back, so that’s what we’re planning on: that’s he coming back,” Hill said. “He’s been saying that he’s going to come back but he wants to focus on this season and deal with everything else next year but he’s going to be back. I plan on him being back.”
After averaging 17.3 points and 7.1 rebounds as a junior, Turner contemplated heading to the NBA but opted to return. Among the reasons he cited was that he had not won much during his career, saying he wanted to be known for bringing titles back to OSU.
As he celebrated on the floor at Value City Arena after earning a share of the conference title March 2, fans chanted “one more year” as he accepted the trophy. He gestured to the crowd with one finger in the air and mouthed, “one more?” while grinning. After the game, he said he was not sure what the fans were saying and was asking them to repeat themselves.
Head coach Thad Matta said he will not talk Turner into returning, instead encouraging him to do what is right for him and his family.
“I think that the challenge right now is he and I just sitting down and having a conversation of where his mind is and what exactly he wants to do,” the coach said. “I told him, ‘You better hang on – there’s going to be people coming at you.’ They’re like vultures out there right now.
“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.
“What he’s given this program and the three years he’s been here, it’s truly amazing and I love the kid. And I’m going to do what’s right for him and what he wants to do.”
Turner ends the season averaging 20.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists. All were team highs. In the locker room after the game, his teammates said his play this season never reflected the fact that he has the chance to be a top NBA draft pick.
“I think that’s why he’s been so successful,” Diebler said. “I think a lot of guys in his position have a tendency to talk about the next level and as they’re still playing it can affect how they’re playing right now. They can still be in the tournament and they’re thinking about going to the NBA.
“Evan was not like that. His focus was on this basketball the whole team.”