Junior forward LaQuinton Ross (10) drives to the hoop during the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Dayton at First Niagara Center. OSU lost, 70-69. Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editor

Junior forward LaQuinton Ross (10) drives to the hoop during the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Dayton at First Niagara Center. OSU lost, 60-59.
Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editor

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Collegiate athletics have served as a stepping stone for professional sports for years.

Student-athletes come to campuses to begin work toward an education and hopefully a chance at a national title.

Since the rule was implemented in 2005 preventing student-athletes from jumping to the NBA straight out of high school — thus, spending at least one season outside of high school and being at least 19 years old — the game has changed. Better known as the “one-and-done” rule, programs like Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and others have recruited, used and then passed along these athletes to the next level.

Ohio State is no exception, losing stars like Mike Conley, Jr., Greg Oden, Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos and B.J. Mullens after just one year in Columbus.

But it’s been five seasons since the Buckeyes have lost a player after one year — Mullens after the 2008-09 season — and after the Buckeyes’ heartbreaking 70-69 last-second loss to Dayton Thursday at the First Niagara Center, junior forward LaQuinton Ross has a decision to make after his three-year stay in Columbus.

To stay or go?

“I have no idea right now,” Ross said after scoring just 10 points — five below his season average — in the loss to the Flyers. “(I have to) sit down with my family and my coaches and go from there.”

Ross hardly played his freshman year as a Buckeye — only seeing action in nine games — but came on strong in the end of both his second and third seasons in Columbus, becoming the Robin to Deshaun Thomas’ Batman in OSU’s Elite Eight run one year ago and then leading the team in scoring this year.

“I think the thing you’ve got to do is do the research,” OSU coach Thad Matta said of Ross’ upcoming decision. “I always want what’s best for our guys, if it’s right I’ll be the first to tell him to go.”

Ross said he looks to make a decision on his future “in the next few weeks,” but it could come sooner. He also said he wasn’t leaning toward staying for his senior year or leaving in search of an NBA contract.

“Just basically how I feel, get insight of where I could go. What we would have next year,” Ross said regarding the factors that would play into his decision. “Sit down with my coaches and my family. Taking that advice in.”

Former Buckeye stars Jared Sullinger and William Buford elected to come back to OSU for another season — Sullinger’s sophomore year and Buford’s senior year — after a 62-60 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen as the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in 2012. But Ross wasn’t sure he’d do the same thing.

“I don’t know man. They knew what they was coming back to. They had a great system, a great system for them. That year that Will came back they brought in our class and they knew they were going to have players around them,” Ross said.

The Flyers frustrated Ross all game, causing him to finish 5-12 from the field and 0-3 from behind the arc with five turnovers.

It was clear the Buckeyes looked to Ross when the offense broke down — which was quite often this year. But at times he forced tough shots in the lane, causing frustration which led to him being hit with three technical fouls over the course of OSU’s final nine games.

If Ross does decide to bolt for the NBA, there are four players from the 2011 recruiting class he was a part of are set to return for their senior seasons — forward Sam Thompson, guard Shannon Scott and centers Amir Williams and Trey McDonald.

Matta is ready to bring in four new players as well as part of a Top 5 recruiting class, including two forwards in Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate to help bolster an offense that struggled this season. Those players will look to help fill the scoring void left by Ross if he leaves.

Thompson showed signs of an ability to score late in the season, even putting up a game-high 18 points in the loss to Dayton, but getting Ross back in the fold would certainly help immensely.

No matter what he decides to do, the junior said the choice will be less than easy.

“It’s definitely going to be hard. I put in three long years here. Even going back, I’m counting my freshman year when I didn’t play as much, I enjoyed being on that team. It was a great experience for me, making it to the Final Four,” Ross said. “It’s definitely going to be a tough decision.”