Cody Cousino / Photo Editor
NEW ORLEANS – Jared Sullinger would not say whether he planned to return to Ohio State or leave school for the NBA after the Buckeyes’ 64-62 loss against Kansas in the Final Four Saturday.
“I honestly don’t know,” Sullinger said. “I really don’t know my decision yet.”
OSU’s sophomore forward pulled his jersey over his head after the final buzzer sounded. He walked slowly off the court and disappeared into the depths of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome along with the rest of his team after what could have been his final game as a Buckeye.
He was asked at least three different ways about his future when reporters caught up to him, but the answer was always the same.
“I’ll probably just sit down with my family and probably my coaches and just talk things through,” he said. “I don’t have a definite decision yet, but we’ll see when that time is right for me.”
Sullinger had a decision to make last year too, but was much clearer about his intentions. After the Buckeyes fell to Kentucky in the Sweet 16, Sullinger definitively told the world he was coming back for his sophomore season. And that’s exactly what he did.
He averaged 17.6 points and about 9.7 rebounds in the 2011-12 season and was named a First Team All-American for the second consecutive year as he helped lead OSU to the Final Four.
After last season, most projections had Sullinger being selected in the top-five picks in the NBA Draft.
His draft status appears to have dropped after staying another year, with many projections predicting him being selected in the middle of the first round.
Though he won’t make a decision just yet, Sullinger said he’s glad to have options.
“I have a choice if I want to come back or not,” he said. “It’s just tough to see somebody like (senior guard William Buford) that has no chance but to leave the program.”
Buford played his last game for OSU, but he knows a little bit about what Sullinger is going through. He had the option to leave early for the NBA more than once, but opted to stay in school and get his degree.
But after the game, Buford said that just because the best thing for him was to remain at OSU doesn’t mean Sullinger should do the same. He offered advice for Sullinger and fellow teammate, sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas, who is also facing draft entry speculation.
“I’d tell them to do whatever is best for their life,” Buford said. “They can’t listen to other people. It’s their life. In my life I didn’t listen to other people. I still have a chance to get my degree next quarter so I have something to fall back on. If they want to leave early, that’s fine if that’s what they thought was the best decision.”
Sullinger’s critics have suggested he struggles against longer defenders with athleticism.
Sullinger faced one of those defenders Saturday in Kansas junior center Jeff Withey, who stands seven feet tall.
Withey had seven blocks in the game, many on Sullinger, who struggled to find an offensive rhythm.
OSU’s big man shot 5-19 from the floor, scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. In the second half, when OSU saw a 13-point lead disappear, Sullinger shot 2-11.
“I couldn’t create space off of (Withey) because every time I tried to make a move there was a guard coming, swiping down trying to get the ball out,” Sullinger said. “In the second half, the big double with Thomas Robinson coming over it was just tough.”
Sullinger said the loss was tough to deal with after the game, but he was proud of what OSU accomplished during the season.
“We got to the point where we was one of the last four teams standing,” he said. “Only the best basketball teams play here and we just took a loss. It hurts.”