First things first—LaQuinton Ross is returning to the Ohio State basketball program for his junior season. The real question is whether he should do so or take his talents to the professional level instead.
Had this question been asked merely weeks ago, the proper response may have been a scoff. Yes, there was a time when Ross was rated the No. 1 player in his recruiting class, but that was two seasons that consisted of zero starts and a plethora of inconsistent playing time ago.
In fact, Ross barely saw the court at all as a freshman thanks to an early academic suspension that left him squarely in Thad Matta’s doghouse.
However, after averaging 15 points and better than 20 minutes of action a night during the Buckeyes’ NCAA tournament run that also included a game-winning three, Ross turned some heads at the NBA level. It is Deshaun Thomas who is actually leaving Columbus early, but the argument can be made that Ross is a better pro prospect.
The reasoning as to why Ross should abandon ship at Ohio State and enter the land of the NBA riches right now are apparent after watching him play for a few minutes.
Ross has a lengthy 6’8” frame that allows him to shoot over the top of smaller defenders or even post them up. What’s more, he has the quickness and penetration abilities to drive right around larger defenders who try to size him up. And while the percentages haven’t quite caught up the form yet, Ross has one of the smoothest jump-shooting strokes in the entire country.
He is a pure scorer with a number of offensive skills that will easily translate to the next level. His defense is certainly suspect, but lackadaisical defending (especially in the regular season) is not exactly an endangered species among NBA players.
The argument can also be made that Ross’ stock is sky-high after his performance on the grand stage of the NCAA tournament. The young Ross did not shy away from the moment and let his presence be felt through the Elite Eight.
Aaron Craft may have garnered the headlines in Ohio State’s round of 32 game against Iowa State thanks to a game-winner, but it was Ross who scored 17 points and carried a somewhat stagnant Buckeye offense in the second half. Ross followed that effort up with another 17 points and a clinching three of his own in the Sweet 16 against Arizona.
Even in the Scarlet and Gray’s heartbreaking loss to Wichita State, Ross scored 19 points and demonstrated his smooth release on the free-throw line (where he was 9-of-10). Thanks to the NCAA tournament performance, Ross is finally a known commodity outside of Columbus.
However, just because Ross’ stock is high now and his skills easily translate doesn’t mean he should enter the NBA draft this season.
With Thomas’ departure for the greener pastures of professional ball, Ross will be seen as the natural replacement for those 20 points a night next year. Don’t underestimate the value for Ross of showing NBA teams what he can do as the go-to guy in one of the nation’s premier conferences.
The NBA is a superstar-driven league that values players who can create their own shots off the dribble and not wilt under pressure from the opposition. Ross will be the primary focus of defensive game plans for much of next season, and if he can thrive he will shoot up draft boards much quicker than he did with one impressive NCAA tournament.
Returning to campus for another season also gives Ross an opportunity to improve on what are seen as weak points. His defense, ball-handling and turnover issues could all use a boost, and more consistent playing time as a junior will likely help in all three facets.
Ross will also have a chance to demonstrate that his maturity level has vastly improved since his freshman-year suspension. With teams preparing to hand out millions upon millions of dollars to draft picks, this is more important than it used to be.
Ultimately, Ross should not leave school because of what he could potentially accomplish this season. He will be the offensive leader of one of the best teams in the country and have an opportunity to establish himself as a superstar at the collegiate level so NBA teams know he is capable of handling the load. If he does so, his draft stock will be much higher at this time next year.
Which only means one thing—the decision will be even harder in 12 months.