Ross Planning to Return, Decision from Thomas On Hold
By Brandon Castel
LOS ANGELES — Just a few weeks ago, the idea of playing next season without Deshaun Thomas would have frightened just about everyone at Ohio State.
Including Thad Matta.
Ohio State’s basketball coach had built a team around defense, toughness and athleticism. The one ingredient that has been hard to come by at times this season is scoring. When Thomas had it going, the Buckeyes were tough to beat.
Photo by Jim Davidson
When he struggled, like he did in the first half Saturday, Ohio State suddenly became a very vulnerable target. With the loss to Wichita State, it’s possible Thomas has played his last game for the scarlet and gray.
The junior forward wasn’t quite ready to announce his decision following a 23-point performance during Ohio State’s 70-66 loss to the Shockers in the Elite Eight.
“It's a tough loss we've had. Thinking about this loss, I'm just going to go home, enjoy my family and get back in the gym,” he said after the game at the Staples Center.
“I’m going to take some time, get back in the gym and work on my craft. I’m going to finish up school and enjoy my family and go on from there.”
Thomas had a similar decision to make after last year’s season-ending loss to Kansas in the Final Four. Like last year, he is not projected to be a guaranteed first-round pick if he does leave after this season, but Thomas has a 1-year old son named Deshaun Jr. who could factor into his decision.
“I have to think about what I’m going to do. It’s a tough decision,” he said in the OSU locker room.
“But that’s what good players whose dream it is to make it to the next level (have to do). You have to make that tough decision in college. I’m going to think about it, go to the gym and keep working on my game.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
If Thomas does decide it’s time for him to make some money playing the game of basketball, the Buckeyes have to feel a lot better about the team they will have next season thanks to the emergence of LaQuinton Ross.
The sophomore out of Mississippi averaged 15 points per game for the Buckeyes during the NCAA Tournament, including a 19-point effort Saturday against Wichita State. That’s nearly double what he was scoring during the regular season, but he isn’t planning to cash on his newfound success just yet.
“I’m coming back next year,” he said while sitting in the Lakers’ locker room at the Staples Center.
“Right now, I really haven’t thought about next season. I really haven’t thought about that. I’ve only been focused on this season and getting back to the Final Four.”
After an up-and-down regular season, Ross really started to emerge as an offensive weapon for the Buckeyes during their Big Ten Tournament run. The 6-8 forward has one of the smoothest strokes around, and he used to score 27 points in three games during Ohio State’s trip to Chicago.
He was 10-18 from the field and 6-9 from behind the arc during that tournament, and it was there Matta really discovered he might have something with Ross and Thomas on the floor together as the four and the five.
“The growth of that young man has been tremendous,” Matta said of Ross, who did not play much last year as a freshman.
“He’s got a great future.”
While the NBA does draft on potential, it typically requires a larger sample size than the seven games Ohio State has played this postseason (unless your name is Kyrie Irving).
Ross was 27 of 57 (47 percent) from the floor during the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. He was 14 of 27 (52 percent) from three, including a last-second game-winner against Arizona on Thursday night.
None of the current 2013 NBA mock drafts include his name on a list of guys expected to be taken on June 27, but most of them do include Thomas as an early second round draft pick. That might be enough to talk him into coming back, but that’s not something Matta will do unless he believes it’s the best option.
“With all of our players, I want to make sure we educate him and he gets the process of what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s best for him,” Matta said Saturday.
“I think there’s a possibility that he could go, but I want to make sure that it’s right for he and his family.
“There’s a possibility he could stay.”
If he does, that Buckeyes could be among the preseason favorites to win the national championship next year. They lose only one senior in backup center Evan Ravenel, but guys like Ross, Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson all appear to be on the verge of stardom.
Teammate Lenzelle Smith would love to see Thomas back for another run at the Final Four, and maybe even a championship, next season.
“Of course. He’s one of the guys I came in with and I’m sure they think the same thing right now,” said Smith, who will be a senior next year.
“We have some work to do. We have to get better, so hopefully we all can pull it together and get another crack at this next year.”
With or without Thomas, a lot of that could hinge on the development of LaQuinton Ross. He has an important offseason ahead of him, but Ross is excited about the possibilities for this Ohio State team next season.
“Especially with all these guys coming back. Who wouldn’t take us after seeing what we did this year and all the talent we have coming back,” Ross added.
“I thought we had the talent in the room to win the national championship, so that still hurts right now.”
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