For the last three years, all preseason talk about the Ohio State men’s basketball team has revolved around coach Thad Matta’s incoming recruits.

In 2006, it was the “Thad Five.” In 2007, it was five-star recruit Kosta Koufos and Ohio high school’s all-time leading scorer Jon Diebler. Prior to last season it was a pair of Ohio freshman, B.J. Mullens and William Buford.

With basketball season right around the corner, the focus this year is on guard Evan Turner. Now in his third year in the program, Turner has the ability and, more importantly, the opportunity to elevate himself above any of those names as the best player in the Matta era.

It may be hard to believe that a player who arrived in Columbus as, at best, the third-most touted member of his freshman class can be considered better than the likes of Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jamar Butler or Daequan Cook. It may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

The first comparison is against Jamar Butler, a Buckeye guard from 2004 to 2008. In the 2007-08 season, Butler’s best statistical year and one in which he garnered the vast majority of the offensive responsibility, he averaged 15 points per game. In comparison, Turner is coming off a season in which he averaged more than 17 points per game and more than doubled Butler’s senior-season rebound average.

Butler left OSU never having finished higher than third team all-Big Ten. Turner was a unanimous selection to last season’s first team all-Big Ten team.

Both Kosta Koufos and B.J. Mullens arrived on campus with plenty of hype, and both certainly had the potential to be great college players. Being a great college player was not a priority for either, however, as both prematurely bolted to the NBA.

The most contention comes from the players making up the 2006-2007 OSU team. The team that finished as Big Ten regular season and tournament champions, as well as national runner-up, was comprised of three NBA first-round picks.

Greg Oden (the NBA’s first overall pick in the 2007 draft), Mike Conley and Daequan Cook came to OSU as quite possibly the university’s most talked-about recruits of all time. Their time in Columbus, however, was nothing more than a pit stop on the way to million-dollar contracts. There is no arguing that each had moments of brilliance during their brief college careers, but none of the three has made much impact at the next level. More importantly, their contribution to the OSU program is virtually undetectable. The trio came and went, seemingly overnight, and left Buckeye fans with the dreams of what could have been.

Turner, on the other hand, is coming off a season in which he led the Buckeyes in nearly every statistical category, including points, rebounds and assists.

This marks just the first time since 2005 that OSU returns its leading scorer from the previous season, and Turner’s 17.3 points is the highest average of any Buckeye under Matta.

What is particularly encouraging about Turner’s potential is his transition to point guard. Turner made his debut at point in August during OSU’s trip to Canada for three exhibition games.

In limited minutes over the course of the three games, Turner averaged more than 14 points. It was his rebounding numbers, however, that were most impressive.

Despite moving to point, a position not typically associated with rebounding, Turner flourished on the boards, with more than seven a game.

Aside from his ability to fill up the stat sheet, it is Turner’s apparent commitment to the OSU program that separates him from the pack.

Following last year’s breakout season, he ignored the potential seven-figure contract and made the decision to return to Columbus. His decision is evidence that Turner, unlike so many of Matta’s best players, has a dedication and a desire to win at the college level.
Turner’s career represents a change for Buckeye fans who have grown accustomed to their star players treating the team as no more than an NBA tryout.

He came without any hype, but it is his loyalty to the program, and his do-everything play on the court, that has lifted him beyond every other player in the Matta era.