Andy Gottesman / Multimedia Editor
NEWARK, N.J. — After falling short of the team goal of a national championship with a loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday, the Ohio State men’s basketball team received some positive news: Freshman forward Jared Sullinger confirmed his plans to return for his sophomore season.
“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 to reporters after the loss. “I don’t appreciate losing. I never appreciate losing and I’m going to come back to win.”
Sullinger led the Buckeyes in points and rebounds per game with 17.1 and 10, respectively. The Freshman of the Year award winner is also one of four finalists for the Naismith Award, handed out to the best basketball player in the country.
Accolades aside, Sullinger’s motivation to return was simple.
“The love of this basketball team makes me want to come back,” he said. “These guys are my brothers.”
OSU coach Thad Matta was not surprised by his freshman’s vow to return.
“He told me from day one he’d be back for two years,” he said. “I think all the things he learned this year, with a great offseason, I have no doubt he’ll be the best player in college basketball (next year).”
Sullinger tallied 21 points and 16 rebounds in the team’s loss to the Wildcats on Friday. The double-double was the forward’s 18th in 37 games.
It was not those numbers or the team’s 34 wins that made Sullinger’s choice an easy one, but rather the loss to the Wildcats. The freshman plans on getting right back to work.
“I know I am going to be back in the gym as soon as we get back,” he said.
Despite being widely projected as a top-five pick, Sullinger was adamant that he would not be swayed by the NBA.
“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 Matta.”
Sullinger has until April 24 to submit his name to the NBA draft, but said he is not interested in even testing the waters.
OSU junior guard William Buford said he plans to return, but might look into the NBA by entering his name. If he does, he will have until May 8 to withdraw it and retain his college eligibility. Buford, however, doesn’t think he is ready to play professionally.
“I’ll be back,” he said. “I just want to get better so when I do go, I’ll be prepared to make an impact and not just go to be a player in the league.”
If both players return, OSU will retain its top two scorers and top rebounder from the 2010–11 season, along with the team leader in assists, freshman point guard Aaron Craft.
Though he was emotional after the team’s tough loss, Sullinger said he did not take the decision lightly and was clear that he would not renege on his choice.
“I’m a man of my word,” he said. “I won’t change my mind for anybody. This is what I want. This is where I’m happy. I’m happy being an Ohio State Buckeye and playing for coach Matta.”