BUFFALO, N.Y. — The deadline for underclassmen to enter the NBA Draft is April 27. LaQuinton Ross will know well before that cutoff date. The junior forward indicated he’s not leaning one way or the other, but there’s definitely a decision to be made.
In his first season as a starter, Ross averaged more than 15 points and six rebounds per game for the 25-win Buckeyes. Before he arrived at Ohio State, there were murmurs he could be a one-and-done player before academic issues sent his freshman year into a tailspin.
After postseason heroics last season, Ross no doubt returned with the intention of having an All-American junior year to send his draft stock surging and propel him to the professional ranks. It didn’t go as planned, but that hasn’t stopped speculation about his future.
Ross isn’t projected as a first-round draft pick in any projections and isn’t even a guarantee to go in the second round. Ohio State’s had at least one player forego his eligibility the past two seasons – Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas – and seven of the last eight. When you recruit top-tier talent, which has become a Thad Matta staple, it’s inevitable that rosters will contain turnover.
“The thing you have to do is do the research,” Matta said. “I always want what’s best for our guys. If it’s right then, I will be the first to tell him to go. But I think he’s got to sit down and look at it. He’s capable of coming back here and having a great senior year if he were to choose to do that.”
Sullinger and Thomas returned after heartbreaking losses in the NCAA Tournament, with that result playing a role in their decision. Ross indicated Dayton’s dramatics won’t be part of his thinking in the weeks to come.
What could weight on him, though, are a woeful shooting performance, five turnovers and two paltry rebounds with the spotlight shining bright. Ross finished 5-of-12 shooting from the field and missed all three three-point attempts. His 10 points were the lowest output in nearly a month.
It was a stark contrast to the superstar who emerged in the lead up to the tournament. Ross scored 19 points in six consecutive games and was named to the Big Ten’s all-tournament team after averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds in three games.
“We needed to finish better. I think that was one of the big keys,” Matta said. “We were getting the ball in there, and we weren’t finishing. There was a lot of contact. We kept telling our guys, ‘You’ve got to finish through contact.’ We didn’t do a good enough job of that.”
The physical nature of the Big Ten should be adequate preparation for the rugged NBA. And Ross grew comfortable plowing into the lane as the season progressed. But being out-physicaled and neutralized by opponents happened more often than front-office personnel would like.
Ross’s opinion would differ from a majority of his detractors. Asked if he believed he was an NBA caliber player, he didn’t hesitate with an answer.
“I think so,” Ross said. “I’ve always had confidence I’d be there one day, whether it’s after this season or next season.”
Family, coaches and draft advisors are the people Ross will seek out to discuss his future. The difference between past and present is the roster makeup. The Buckeyes are in a state a flux with Aaron Craft’s departure. The No. 6 recruiting comes to campus over the summer, but Ross said the Sullingers and Thomases knew complementary pieces would surround them.
Ross doesn’t believe he has the same luxury.
“Jared knew what he was coming back to with a great system,” Ross said. “The year that Will [Buford] came back they brought in our class, so they knew they were going to have players around them.”
The countdown clock has begun.