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Jared Sullinger’s post-Sweet 16 decision differs from Evan Turner’s choice to turn pro

Andy Gottesman / Multimedia Editor

After a disappointing Sweet 16 loss, Ohio State’s best player had not established the legacy he had hoped for.

The unfulfilled goal, along with the promise of NBA riches, clouded Evan Turner’s mind following the OSU men’s basketball team’s loss to Tennessee in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

“I can’t give a percentage right now,” the OSU guard said about his future intentions after the game. “I really don’t want to go out like this.”

But that is exactly how Turner went out.

The loss to the Volunteers was Turner’s last as a Buckeye, as he opted for the NBA and was the second overall selection in the 2010 draft.

One year later, little has changed.

OSU again fell short of its goal with a loss in the Sweet 16, and again its best player could leave early as a high NBA draft choice.

Many project OSU freshman forward Jared Sullinger to be a top-five pick in the NBA draft and earn millions of dollars if he leaves the Buckeyes.

Unlike Turner, Sullinger claims dollar signs do not cloud his mind.

“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,” the freshman said after the loss. “I don’t appreciate losing. I never appreciate losing, and I’m going to come back to win.”

Sullinger has until April 24 to enter his name into this year’s draft, and could withdraw it before May 8 and retain his college eligibility. The 6-foot-9, 280-pound forward said he is not considering doing so.

Turner and Sullinger both were emotional after their respective losses. While Turner was not clear on his intentions after his unsuccessful tournament, Sullinger backed up his decision with more than sentiment.

“I’ll be in an Ohio State jersey next year,” Sullinger said. “It’s my personal choice and I want to come back and serve this basketball team and play for (coach Thad) Matta. The love of this basketball team makes me want to come back. These guys are my brothers.”

If Sullinger stays true to his word and returns to play with his “brothers,” he might be the favorite to take home the Naismith Award, given to the nation’s top player.

The forward averaged 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game this season, leading the Buckeyes in both categories. He already has brought home the Freshman of the Year award, and is one of four finalists for the Naismith Award.

Two of the other finalists — BYU guard Jimmer Fredette and Duke guard Nolan Smith — have exhausted their college eligibility after finishing their senior season. The final member of the foursome, Connecticut junior guard Kemba Walker, has already earned his degree and participated in his team’s Senior Day activities. Walker is expected to leave for the NBA after this season, but because he is the only finalist still playing, he has not announced his intentions.

Sullinger also was named to the Sporting News All-American team, along with Fredette, Smith, Walker and Purdue senior forward JaJuan Johnson. With those players’ departures, assuming Walker opts to become a professional, it seems that the 2012 Naismith Award will be the OSU forward’s to lose.

That will only be the case, however, if Sullinger stays true to his comments following the Buckeyes’ loss to Kentucky.

The forward was adamant his decision was final.

“I’m a man of my word,” Sullinger said. “I won’t change my mind for anybody.”

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