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Leaving for the NBA Draft was a ‘tough decision’ for D’Angelo Russell

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Then-freshman D'Angelo Russell drives to the lane during a game against Minnesota in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. Russell announces his decision to enter the NBA Draft Wednesday.  Credit: Mark Batke / Lantern photographer

Then-freshman D’Angelo Russell drives to the lane during a game against Minnesota in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. Russell announces his decision to enter the NBA Draft Wednesday.
Credit: Mark Batke / Lantern photographer

After reports surfaced Wednesday evening that Ohio State men’s basketball guard D’Angelo Russell decided to enter the NBA draft following his freshman season, Russell made it official Thursday.

Speculation had run rampant for the majority of the season after the Louisville, Ky., product quickly emerged as one of the top guards in the country. He ended up winning the inaugural Jerry West Award for the nation’s top shooting guard after posting 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5 assists per game.

Russell waited until just a few days before the April 26 deadline to announce his decision. He said this was entirely because of the pressure of the life-changing choice.

“It was tough,” Russell said at a Thursday press conference at the Schottenstein Center. “Knowing you have the opportunity to be a pro while knowing you have the opportunity to come back and get a free education and play under coach Matta and his coaching staff, it’s a tough decision.

“It’s hard to leave my brothers, and this coaching staff. I really wanted to take the time to think about my decision and the process I have to go through to be the best player I want to be.”

OSU coach Thad Matta said despite any assumptions that his job was to keep Russell in Columbus, he had a large influence in pushing the guard out the door.

“The other night, we sat down (with Russell and his father, Antonio), and I started the meeting with the two, and I said, ‘Hey look, I think you need to go.’ I could see the relief on his face, like ‘Oh God, thank you,’” Matta said.

Matta said the clarity of how successful Russell will be at the next level was his main reason for encouraging him to leave.

“As sad as I am to see him leave our program, I’m excited, because I feel in my gut … I think he has a future at the next level that’s going to be something special,” he said.

Russell, according to his father, Antonio Russell, and Matta, was not brought in as a one-and-done candidate, but rather on a two-year plan.

“From the first time they recruited us, coach always said he could be one and done, and I said to coach, ‘I would like him to do two or more,’” Antonio Russell said. “And he always said it from the first day, ‘He could be one and done.’ And I said, ‘I’d like him to do two years.’”

D’Angelo Russell said, with the thought of weighing his professional prospects seemingly at least a year away, it enabled him to focus solely on improving himself as a player.

“I knew coming in here, I was two years. I was on next year’s draft boards. Coming in, just playing games, not worrying about anything … it made things easier for me,” D’Angelo Russell said.

Though considered mainly a shooting guard, D’Angelo Russell served as the primary ball-handler last season when senior guard Shannon Scott rested. D’Angelo Russell said he has never considered himself a point guard at any level — but he has never considered himself being labeled as anything else, either.

“When people ask me what position I want to be, I just want to be a basketball player,” D’Angelo Russell said.

While D’Angelo Russell ended up being OSU’s first one-and-done player since Byron Mullens in 2009, Matta said it only took him one season to form his legacy at the school.

“I want to hang his jersey in the rafters some day, because I think he’s one of the greatest to ever play the game at Ohio State, and he was only here for eight months,” Matta said.

While it will remain to be seen if D’Angelo Russell’s No. 0 will ever hang in the rafters alongside the current four Buckeyes immortalized, the guard said he will always remember what his time in Columbus meant to him.

“Once a Buckeye, always a Buckeye. I’ll never forget that.”

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