Andy Gottesman / The Lantern
With his head down and eyes swollen, a humbled Evan Turner responded to questions from the media after Ohio State was stunned by the Tennessee Volunteers in the NCAA Tournament.
Roughly a half hour earlier, he walked off the court alone and dejected, as neither of his 3-point attempts fell to help keep OSU alive in what could be his last game with the Buckeyes.
It has been a foregone conclusion that Turner, a finalist for national Player of the Year, would take his game to the NBA after this season. However, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that his season, and possibly his career, would end like this.
Turner will leave OSU with several accolades and his name will one day be used in the company of Buckeye legends like Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek.
Some players might be satisfied with that, but not Turner.
“I’ve told him a million times, I couldn’t be prouder of what I’ve watched him accomplish,” coach Thad Matta said. “Every award he has won, he’s deserving.”
Some players in his position might not have put as much into their game and their team as Turner did. The thought of bigger and better things, fame and fortune, might cloud some players’ abilities to keep their heads and hearts in the present. For Turner, however, that was never a problem.
“I think that is why Evan has been so successful,” teammate and roommate Jon Diebler said. “I think a lot of guys in his position have a tendency to talk about the next level as they are still playing.”
“It can affect how they play right now, they could still be in the tournament but they are thinking about the NBA. Evan was not like that, and his focus has been on this basketball team the whole time,” Diebler said.
Turner said earlier this season that not accomplishing his goals, such as winning the Big Ten title, could affect his impending decision. The Sweet Sixteen wasn’t his goal.
“He’s a competitor and he hates losing,” Diebler said. “Obviously he knows how far we could have gotten this year. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. As a team and as a group, we had higher expectations.”
Whether it was his star ranking out of high school, the less-than-stellar start to his career, his quick recovery from a broken back, winning a Big Ten title or hitting a buzzer-beater against Michigan, Turner has continuously exceeded expectations. He likes to achieve his goals, but he didn’t reach the Final Four like he wanted to, Diebler said.
“I have lived with him for a year,” Diebler said. “I know how he is just like everybody else on this team and he loves college. Actually loves it. He loves The Ohio State University and he loves the guys on this team.”
His love will be questioned now that his season is over, whether or not it is enough to keep him in college one more year. It is the expectation that a potential Player of the Year and top-three pick will undoubtedly leave for the NBA.
“I told him you better hang on, there’s going to be people coming at you,” Matta said.
“They’re like vultures out there right now. I would venture to say 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 in the three years he’s been here, it’s truly amazing, and I love the kid,” Matta said.
It took the world only a few minutes to finally ask.
“I can’t give a percentage right now,” Turner said in response to how likely he was to come back. “I really don’t want to go out like this.”
He will go out remembered not for the heartbreaking loss to Tennessee, but as a player who never let his blossoming talent and soon-to-be riches get in the way of his beloved team. If his career ended in St. Louis, he undoubtedly gave all he could to Ohio State.
Most believe Turner will go out with the expectation that the NBA is where he will be next season. But he has exceeded expectations before.