Ohio State's impressive streak of getting a player picked in the NBA draft for seven consecutive years ended today, after Ohio State's two draft eligible players, Aaron Craft and LaQuinton Ross, went without hearing their names called. Craft's eligibility had ended, but Ross left Ohio State early to declare. Did he make a mistake? Should he have stayed in school?
First, let's look at this from a practical perspective. LaQuinton Ross is going to be paid to play basketball somewhere, probably in Europe. What can an average player make playing in Europe? About $65,000, according to the Sports Agent Blog. For a player of Ross' pedigree and skillset, it is not unreasonable to think he'll be getting more. Deshaun Thomas, another former Buckeye who was criticized by some for leaving early as well, made $150,000 last season playing in France, tax-free, while also getting a free apartment and a free car.
The median wage for all Americans, for what it's worth, is $48,872, so making more than that at 21 or 22 isn't a bad deal at all, especially if your housing, taxes and other incidental expenses are totally covered. If the rest of us had been offered a job during our junior year of college that paid over 65K, if we're being honest, a lot of us would have been tempted to drop out. I would have left, no question.
Also, it's important to remember that LaQuinton Ross has a child to provide for, giving a sense of urgency to start earning money that a lot of prospects do not have. You can't fault a guy for wanting to earn really good money instead of slogging through another gazillion general education requirements at Ohio State.
The million dollar question, then, is whether Ross would have made more money had he stuck around and declared for the draft next year. If we're operating on the assumption that Lee doesn't arrive if Ross stays, LaQuinton would spend another year playing power forward, or even a smallball center, which wouldn't be his NBA position. Even with reinforcements from Ohio State's young backcourt, he would still likely need to shoulder a primary scoring load, which, compounded with concerns over his maturity and consistency, doesn't look like a great combination on paper.
There are things to really like about Ross as a pro prospect. He's got solid size and wingspan for his position, he has a good release point for his shot, has demonstrated the capacity to be a good, although streaky, three point shooter, and at least in college, he was able to get to the free throw line. His defense is still not good enough for the pros though, he doesn't create offense for others, and again, those maturity questions. How many of those concerns are likely to get really resolved in another year at Ohio State?
This might not be a bad thing for Ohio State's basketball team either. If Ross doesn't leave, the Buckeyes don't have a scholarship for both Anthony Lee and Trevor Thompson. Maybe they only get one of those two players, or maybe they don't get either, but they certainly don't get both. Ross' shots next year would come at the expense of D'Angelo Harris, or Kam Williams, or Marc Loving, players the Buckeyes need to develop for their future. Would Ross being on the team next year help? Probably, but that's hardly a sure thing, especially if Thompson ends up becoming an important part of the frontcourt in years to come.
Hopefully being in a situation where he is free to dedicate all of his energy to basketball, along with playing in a situation where he won't be asked to be something he isn't, will help him grow in the way that he needs to get into the NBA. He could still very well latch onto a summer league team, play well, and find himself on an NBA roster. Or, he could move to Europe, see the world, and still make more money than almost any non-Wall Street 22 year old. Ohio State will always be there for him to finish his degree.
Leaving early is a mistake if your college basketball experience can directly improve your potential NBA stock. For Ross though, I'm not sure that's very clear. He might be able to become a more consistent three point shooter with another year of college ball, but he'd potentially be playing out of position, playing a role that doesn't project to his professional basketball future, while being forced to spend time on classes or other obligations that don't match up to his career. If you want to point a finger at a mistake made during this process, don't point it at the decision to leave Ohio State, point it at the decision to show up to the NBA combine overweight and out of shape. That, more than anything, is the real culprit behind Ross not hearing his name last night.
Maybe it would have been better for the Buckeyes had he stuck around a year, but I can't fault him for leaving. Best of luck to LaQuinton in his future basketball endeavors.