Deshaun Thomas. Jared Sullinger. Evan Turner. Three names that live in Ohio State basketball lore — Buckeye stars that took a boatload of points with them when each left college ball.
Since 2009, those three players each led OSU in scoring over the course of a season. Thomas averaged 19.8 points per game last season, Sullinger scored 17.5 per contest in 2011-12 and Turner tallied 20.4 in 2009-10. All three players are now in the professional ranks, and OSU is looking for someone to fill their shoes.
Many OSU faithful are looking for one junior forward from Jackson, Miss., to be that player for the Buckeyes this season: LaQuinton Ross.
Ross was fourth on the team in 2012-13 with 8.3 points per game, a total he managed while only averaging 16.9 of the 40 minutes during a game.
Although the season has yet to officially get under way, Ross is already off to a good start after tying the team lead with 15 points in an exhibition match against Walsh Sunday.
Ross said during OSU Media Day Oct. 10 even if he isn’t the team’s leading scorer this year, he feels like he has grown into a leader for the Buckeyes.
“That’s one thing I worked on too, also — communicating with my teammates more. Because I think down the line, they’re going to need me a little bit more than they needed me last year,” Ross said. “Knowing that if I’m not talking to them, they’re not going to look at me in the game.”
Ross added in his expanded role this season, he has had to bulk up to be able to defend bigger players.
“I don’t think it was as much getting points, I think it was more just being able to take that contact in the Big Ten,” Ross said about adding weight. “With the Big Ten being physical, and this year, seeing how small we play, (I’ll) definitely (be) having to guard (bigger players) this year … It might have some plays where I switch off and we’re playing Purdue and I have to guard (a big guy) and I can’t be under 200 pounds doing that.”
Because he might have to defend those larger players, Ross said he now weighs 225 pounds, up from the 215 he played at last season.
Senior guard Aaron Craft said Ross has grown into more of a team player instead of a just a player who looks to shoot first.
“He’s done a phenomenal job coming in right now and not taking everything on himself. Is he playing perfect? No. But he’s doing a great job of playing with other people right now,” Craft said at Media Day. “He’s communicating. He’s talking on defense and offense and that makes us a better team. He’s feeling that role pretty well.”
But Craft made clear Ross wasn’t expected to step in and be exactly what Thomas was last season.
“Is he going to be Deshaun? Absolutely not. But he’s bringing his own twist that Deshaun can’t do either,” Craft said.
Craft added that although Ross is talented, replacing the scoring Thomas brought to the table is going to be a team effort this season.
“You can’t replace Deshaun with just one person,” Craft said. “Even with him, we shot one of the worst percentages in coach (Thad Matta’s) career here at Ohio State (45.1 percent). Our biggest focus is being able to knock down open shots, elevating our shooting percentage and that opens up countless other things on the offensive end.”
Ross was vital to OSU’s run to the Elite Eight last season, as he averaged 15 points per game during the NCAA Tournament, including scoring 17 against both Iowa State and Arizona.
Against Arizona, Ross made an impression, hitting a game winning 3-pointer with two seconds left on the clock.
Matta said Ross finished last year well, and that since the season ended, he has grown into a more aware player.
“LaQuinton finished the season on a high note, I think that he had hit his stride in terms of having a better understanding of what we need him to do and how we need him to do it,” Matta said during Media Day. “One of the biggest things I’ve noticed thus far is he’s got a much broader vision offensively than what he had in the past.”
Consistency should be a big focus for Ross this season, Matta added.
“From the standpoint of LaQuinton, his entire playing career a lot has been based on potential and he and I have had that discussion,” Matta said. “It’s time to be productive, but probably more important it’s time to be consistent and that to me would supersede any expectations that anybody outside of the program can possibly put on him.”
OSU is scheduled to begin regular season play Saturday at noon against Morgan State at the Schottenstein Center.