E.J. Liddell is testing the NBA waters, but he could still return to the Buckeyes next season.
The Ohio State forward announced Wednesday that he is entering the 2021 NBA draft, but is maintaining his collegiate eligibility.
“Reaching the NBA has always been a dream of mine ever since I started playing basketball with my first YMCA team,” Liddell wrote in his statement. “Timing is everything, trust I won't rush.”
Liddell is coming off his sophomore season at Ohio State, in which he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors while leading the Buckeyes with 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He was one of the final 15 candidates for this year's Wooden Award, which honors college basketball's best individual player.
By entering the draft without forfeiting his eligibility, Liddell will have the opportunity to work out for NBA teams and get feedback from professional scouts and coaches before making a final decision on whether he should go pro now or play at least one more year for the Buckeyes. The deadline to withdraw from this year's draft is July 19, with the draft itself set to take place 10 days later on July 29.
Since a 2016 rule change allowed players to enter the NBA draft while retaining their collegiate eligibility, multiple Ohio State players have gone through the draft process and ultimately returned to the Buckeyes for another season, including Kaleb Wesson in 2019 and CJ Walker in 2020.
Assuming Liddell returns to Ohio State for his junior season, he could be the frontrunner for Big Ten men's basketball player of the year. If Liddell chooses to stay in the draft, he would leave a big void for the Buckeyes to fill in their frontcourt.
When asked last week whether he was considering leaving Ohio State for the NBA ranks, Liddell hadn't yet made a decision about whether he would enter the draft. He did say at the time, though, that he was optimistic about what the Buckeyes have the potential to accomplish next season if he and the rest of their top players return.
“If everybody puts in the work they did in the offseason, it's going to be pretty hard to beat us,” Liddell said.
Including the extra year of eligibility granted to all players by the NCAA, Liddell still has three years of collegiate eligibility should he choose to return.