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2022 NBA Draft: Experts have zero Buckeyes being drafted, but who will return?

Ohio State could lose as many as eight players after next season, but a few could return for the 2022-2023 season.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

While the Ohio State men’s basketball program has been fairly consistent over the past few years, — not fantastic, but consistent — they have not turned out a ton of NBA draftees. Keita Bates-Diop was the most recent, going to the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 48th pick in 2018. D’Angelo Russell was the most recent before him, when he was selected with the second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Lakers. However, he played for Thad Matta, not Chris Holtmann.

Each of the past two seasons, Ohio State had a fringe draft-eligible player who wound up going undrafted. Kaleb Wesson had a longshot chance in 2020, but wound up going undrafted. He would later sign with the Golden State Warriors. Duane Washington Jr. shot up draft boards this summer after a strong showing at the NBA Combine, but he too went undrafted. Less than 30 minutes after the 2021 NBA Draft, he signed a two-way contract with the Indiana Pacers. There is a path for both of them to make it to the league, but Ohio State’s streak of not having a player drafted grew to three years last month when Washington was not selected. Will that streak continue next summer?

It’s still early — very early — but draft experts currently don’t have any Buckeyes being taken in the 2022 NBA Draft. SB Nation, USA Today, CBS Sports, and Bleacher Report have all published their first 2022 mock drafts, and none of the four include any Buckeyes.

Is this a shocker? Not really. Ohio State will have one of the most experienced rosters in the nation when the ball tips off in November — one metric used by the Columbus Dispatch’s Adam Jardy this month had them second in experience behind only Texas.

However, older does not mean better in the eyes of NBA GM’s and scouts. The first seven to ten picks in the NBA Draft are typically freshmen, because they’ve got lower mileage on their bodies and more years to offer teams (why draft a 22-year old when you can draft someone four years younger?). Additionally, Ohio State’s “older” players aren’t exactly NBA prospects.

Kyle Young, Seth Towns, Jimmy Sotos, and Joey Brunk have injury concerns aside from the holes in their game. Justin Ahrens and Jamari Wheeler have some very clear holes in their offensive games that need to be improved on, and certainly won’t be improved enough to make them NBA players by this time next year. Justice Sueing and Cedric Russell have the potential to maybe make an NBA roster some day, but neither are going to hear their names called in the 2022 draft.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

E.J. Liddell is an interesting case, as he fiddled around with the idea of staying in the draft this summer. He played poorly at the G League Elite camp and was not offered a combine invite, so that idea was snuffed out rather quickly. Now entering his junior season, his game morphed into more of an NBA-style big last season, but obviously there is work to be done. If his game doesn’t take another major step forward this season, Liddell may actually wind up being a four-year player under Holtmann.

And Ohio State’s younger players that may someday wind up being drafted aren’t there yet. Meechie Johnson was thrown into the fire as a 17-year old last season, and his potential really can’t be determined until we see him play consistent minutes with bit more preparation. Malaki Branham’s name has been tossed around as a potential draftee (at some point), but he won’t even start for the Buckeyes this season. His time will come, but it might not be this year.

I think that covers just about everyone. So yeah, we’re probably not going to hear a Buckeye’s name being called at the draft until 2023 again at the earliest. On the court, this team — and future teams — could still be very good. Being a great college player and a great NBA player are two very separate things, and sometimes there are deterrents NBA scouts see in a college player that they simply cannot change, like their age, height, etc. Only 60 players get taken each year in the NBA Draft. All the rest have to take a different path.

So assuming nobody on the 2021-2022 Ohio State men’s basketball team get drafted, how many players should we expect back? As I said earlier, if Liddell’s game does not continue to shift towards a more “modern” post player, he’s likely to stay. He’ll definitely enter the 2022 NBA Draft, but if he doesn’t improve his outside shot and passing this season, he will likely repeat the same motions next summer he did this year — entering the draft before withdrawing and returning to school.

Sueing is someone who I can visualize playing for an NBA team in 3-4 years, because he’s just so darn useful in every single way. He’ll score, grab rebounds, handle the ball, and defend at a pretty acceptable level. But he’s not flashy, and his stats won’t jump off the page at anyone. He’ll be 23 years old when the season is over, though, and I’m not sure if he’ll necessarily want to spend another year in school.

Ahrens is interesting because he essentially does one thing better than anyone else in the B1G, which is shoot the three ball. He shoots three-pointers exclusively, which quite obviously will not translate to the NBA. He could play overseas after college, but I think Ahrens is a solid lock to return for a fifth year in 2022.

The rest of Ohio State’s seniors will either have exhausted their eligibility or will be so old that it seems unlikely they’ll return for another year of school (Brunk and Towns will both be 24 when the season ends). There’s a reason this team is second in the nation in experience — they’ve got some old-ass men on the roster.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

With all that said, this how I expect the roster to look next season once the 2022 NBA Draft is over. This obviously doesn’t include any external transfers from other teams, because that stuff is completely unpredictable.

The 2022-2023 Ohio State men’s basketball team?

  • Meechie Johnson
  • Eugene Brown
  • Malaki Branham
  • Zed Key
  • Kalen Etzler
  • E.J. Liddell
  • Justice Sueing
  • Justin Ahrens
  • Bruce Thornton
  • Bowen Hardman
  • Roddy Gayle Jr.
  • Felix Okpara