Cody Cousino / Photo editor
NEW ORLEANS – After the magic of a Final Four run begins to fade, so too can the promise of a return trip to college basketball’s final weekend of competition as student-athletes might sometimes try to turn a profit on their championship run by leaving for the NBA.
This is the scenario some Ohio State basketball fans were bracing for before the Buckeyes even took the court in New Orleans for the National Semifinal Game against Kansas, which OSU lost Saturday, 64-62.
OSU sophomore forward Jared Sullinger thumped his way to college basketball’s biggest stage, scoring 85 points during the Buckeyes’ five NCAA Tournament games. Sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas led the team in scoring with 96 points and scored a career-high 31 points in the team’s tournament-opening win against Loyola (MD).
After Saturday’s loss, Sullinger and Thomas were noncommittal about the next step in their respective careers, but several OSU fans have accepted that the players might have played their last game in scarlet and gray.
Sullinger said he hopes his teammates return next season, adding that he did not know what his own NBA decision would be.
“I hope they come back,” Sullinger said. “They know what it takes to get to the Final Four. I would hope they would want to come back and try to win a title. I cannot speak for them and do not know what is going through their heads right now.”
Jon Hicks, a second-year in human development and family services, said he expects the Buckeyes’ leading scorers to depart for the professional ranks.
While walking to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the semifinal doubleheader, which also featured the Louisville-Kentucky game, Hicks said he expects Sullinger and Thomas to leave the team.
“I guess you’ve got to think about Sullinger and Thomas (coming out for the NBA Draft),” Hicks said. “Deshaun’s played fantastic this postseason, putting up (96) points … it’s outrageous. They both have room to develop, but they’re going to be great players and they already are.”
ESPN.com writer Chad Ford has Sullinger ranked No. 10 on his ranking of the top 100 collegiate prospects, and could become the seventh first-round NBA draft choice produced by OSU coach Thad Matta.
Former Buckeyes taken in the first round during Matta’s eight years at OSU include the 2007 draft’s No. 1-overall pick Greg Oden (2007), Mike Conley Jr. (2007), Daequan Cook (2007), Kosta Koufos (2008), B.J. Mullens (2009) and Evan Turner (2010).
Eric Osborn, a 2007 OSU graduate with a degree in history, said he thought Sullinger’s departure from the Schottenstein Center hinged on the Buckeyes winning the national championship.
Osborn added that Thomas is a different story, saying the player didn’t need to wait.
“(Thomas) is definitely the most NBA ready right now,” Osborn said. “With his offense, he’s a natural scorer.”
Coaches vacating the OSU program aren’t out of the question either.
Osborn said he had not heard rumors that second-year OSU assistant coach Jeff Boals could leave Columbus, Ohio. Boals was rumored to be a candidate for the coaching position at Ohio University, though that job was offered to former Texas Christian coach Jim Christian, according to multiple reports.
Hicks said he thought it was logical that Boals might be offered the chance to lead a program elsewhere in America.
“I mean, Jeff Boals is a great coach,” Hicks said. “I love him. I’ll be happy for him, but it will be sad to see him go.”
OSU finished the 2011-12 season with a 31-8 record, including a 6-2 postseason record in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. Sullinger and Thomas have not publicly stated a deadline for making a decision about their OSU careers.