Written by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
Edited by: Matt Shock (@shockwave_music)
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In an 81-57 win over Nebraska on Thursday night where Jae’Sean Tate and Sam Thompson owned the stat sheet, all eyes were still on Ohio State’s standout freshman, D’Angelo Russell. I happened to be in attendance for the game to witness the stud from Louisville, Kentucky, and so was New York Knicks president, Phil Jackson. While Jackson’s comments of Russell being a “great prospect” may stupidly get him fined, the question that Buckeye fans have dreaded all season long looks to finally be reality: will D’Angelo Russell stay at Ohio State or take his talents to the NBA?
During Thad Matta’s eleven seasons at the helm of the Buckeyes, we have seen some extremely talented freshmen light up the court at the Schottenstein Center. The likes of Mike Conley, Greg Oden, Kosta Koufos and Jared Sullinger come to mind, but none may be any better than Russell. Leading the Buckeyes with 18.7 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game and 33.1 minutes per game, Russell has cemented himself as not only one of the greatest newcomers in Ohio State history, but as one of the best players in all of college basketball this season.
Since there are two possible answers to this question, there are two different explanations. We all know that the city of Columbus would love to have him back in scarlet and gray next season, but there are other reasons for why it would make sense for Russell to return.
For one, the high profile recruits of Daniel Giddens & JaQuan Lyle that Matta has coming in next season seems to intrigue Russell, especially Lyle. Through social media, Russell has spoke about playing with Lyle and if he can return to play with those guys, as well as existing mainstays such as Marc Loving, Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams, Trevor Thompson and Keita Bates-Diop, then Ohio State basketball will continue to hold their own against the best in the country.
Secondly, as talented as Russell is, there are still a few tweaks to his game that need to be made. Coming out of high school, Russell was known nationally as a shooting guard, but when he came to Ohio State, he was converted to the new age point guard position. Don’t get me wrong, I think he has made excellent strides in his development of the position, but as he still averages almost three turnovers per game, his ball control and court awareness needs to be worked on. I believe that a second or third year learning the game under Matta and his staff will continue to develop Russell into a potential superstar, just like it did with Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger.
On the other hand, Russell also has the ability to be a “one and done” player with the Buckeyes and declare for the NBA Draft after this season has concluded. Coming into the season, Russell was projected as a Top 25 pick in the draft if he left college after his freshman season. Since his freshman season has gone much better than most of the “experts” predicted, he is now slotted as an almost guaranteed top five pick. Even though there are some things that he needs to still work on, this 6’5” 19-year-old can create and score with the best of them, his confidence borders arrogance and he displays that killer instinct in his game that very few players possess. Just like Phil Jackson, if I’m an NBA general manager, I’m keeping my eye on this kid because even though he is still a raw talent at his age, the sky is the limit with his potential.
I know I just threw a ton of information and knowledge at you, but when it comes down to it, the decision is pretty simple. As much as I love my Buckeye basketball and would enjoy watching Russell play with one more year of college ball under his belt, I believe that Russell needs to declare for this coming NBA Draft. A basketball career doesn’t last forever and when you have the ceiling and skill that Russell does, it is best to make the big bucks while you can and finish your education later. An athletic career can end at any moment, while a college education will always be an option.
Don’t get me wrong, I hope he does come back and Ohio State competes for a national title next season. But for a guy like D’Angelo Russell who has the opportunity to be both a great college and professional player, we as Buckeye fans need to put our selfishness aside, appreciate him for what he was and what he will be at the next level.