Buckeyes’ basketball won’t have to relay on freshmen

Published 3:21 am Friday, October 16, 2009

COLUMBUS — Evan Turner thought long and hard about jumping early to the NBA after last season. Truth be told, there are still times he wonders if he made the right decision to stay at Ohio State.

‘‘When I’m doing homework at night, I think, ’I could be in the NBA right now,’’’ he said with a laugh during the Buckeyes media day on Thursday.

Turner came back, just as almost all of his teammates did, to make Ohio State into a veteran group. All five starters return, and that doesn’t count David Lighty, last year’s captain and floor leader, who played seven games before breaking a bone in his foot and missing the rest of the season.

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The only missing piece is substitute B.J. Mullens, who became the third consecutive freshman center at Ohio State to jump to the NBA and to be taken in the first round of the draft.

The Buckeyes are coming off a 22-11 mark that included a tie for fourth in the Big Ten and a first-round exit from the NCAA tournament.

Turner is excited about the possibilities.

‘‘This is fun. I’m getting better every single day. I’m hanging out with my friends,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m enjoying myself — besides the homework part — I never think twice about (the NBA).’’

Turner, a 6-foot-7 junior, was first-team all-conference after averaging 17 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists a game while shooting 51 percent from the field.

Among the other returnees are last year’s Big Ten freshman of the year, 6-5 William Buford (13 ppg), 6-8 center Dallas Lauderdale (70 percent from the field, almost 70 blocked shots), 6-6 Jon Diebler (94 3-pointers, 11.4 ppg), 6-2 guard Jeremie Simmons (45 3-pointers) and energy guy P.J. Hill (who became a starter down the stretch).

Lauderdale suffered a broken finger on his right hand this week and will miss the next four to six weeks. That will open a door for 7-0 UAB transfer Zisis Sarikopoulos, a gifted player for his native Greece’s U19 World Championship Team who looks forward to his first playing time in scarlet and gray.

‘‘I know how important it is for me to step up now and be able to fill in for Dallas,’’ Sarikopoulos said. ‘‘Whether that’s rebounding, blocking shots, scoring — I’m going to put the double-effort into that.’’

After three straight years of having to blend at least two newcomers into the starting lineup, coach Thad Matta has no freshmen on the roster.

Matta is leaning toward making Turner his point guard, a tack that paid dividends as the Buckeyes won five of their last seven regular-season games.

‘‘Honestly, we’ll use Evan just about everywhere,’’ Matta said. ‘‘Last year, when Dave (Lighty) went down, (Evan) would be your hybrid point-forward — whatever those announcers call those guys — because we played him all over. He’s a guy who can do a lot of different things.’’

With Lighty returning, Matta hopes to return to man-to-man defense after a year of playing an attacking, pressing zone.

It was painful for Lighty to watch from the sidelines last year, but he’s fully healed and ready to go. He said the Buckeyes have so much depth that no one will be able to single out Turner, Buford, Diebler or anyone else.

‘‘It’s going to be hard (for a team) to say, ’We have to stop this one player and we can beat Ohio State,’’’ he said. ‘‘Because we have so many weapons that we can go to.’’

It’s also important to note that none of those weapons are newcomers to the college game. This is the most experienced team Matta (127-46 in his five seasons) has had in Columbus.

A team-building tour of Canada in late August has fueled the fire of optimism.

‘‘We have so much potential on this team that it just sort of gets everybody excited,’’ Diebler said. ‘‘We’ve been through the battles. Let’s put it all together and see where it takes us because we know we have great players and great guys on this team.’’