When Thad Matta was recruiting D’Angelo Russell the pair along with D’Angelo’s father Antonio made an agreement that put Russell on a two-year plan for the NBA. As the Buckeye guard excelled throughout the season, shooting into the Top 5 of most draft boards, that plan changed.
“I wanted to let him make the decision, I wanted him and Antonio to sit down,” Matta said at a joint press conference with Antonio and D’Angelo Russell Thursday. “What happens is a lot of times in this process I become the bad guy. Everyone is telling these two, ‘He’s going to tell you to come back because he wants to coach you.’ That wasn’t the truth. We said from the beginning if it was right we would tell him to go. I think the other night when I sat down with the two and said, ‘Look, I think you need to go,’ I could see kind of the relief on his face.”
That relief comes with the decision Russell has made to end his collegiate career and enter the NBA Draft. The decision comes after one of the most prolific seasons by any Ohio State player as Russell was rewarded with consensus All-American honors and received the first-ever Jerry West Award given to the nation’s top shooting guard.
In his only season in Columbus, Russell scored 19.3 points per game along with 5.7 rebounds. Both those marks led the Buckeyes. His 5.0 assists per game were second on the team.
Time and time again Matta has said that he admired Russell’s dedication to the Buckeyes despite the prospect of a lucrative NBA future remaining ever-present. Though he shot up draft boards, Russell said he did his best not to notice.
“Throughout the year I really didn’t watch that stuff,” Russell said. “My brothers or someone would text me and say, ‘hHy they’ve got you at No. 2 now. They’ve got you at No.4.’ I would, how can I say this, I would positively say that I didn’t want to hear that. I was preparing of the next game, the next practice. They understood what I was saying. My name was buzzing. I couldn’t run from it, I couldn’t run from the attention. I took it slow just to make the decision.
“It was tough. Knowing that you have the opportunity to be a pro and knowing you have the opportunity to come back and get a free education and pay under coach Matta and his staff, it’s a tough decision.”
That tough decision was made with Matta’s blessing as the coach said he first knew Russell could potentially play just one season in Columbus after a preseason scrimmage against West Virginia where the guard scored 33 points and hit the game winner.
While one year seems a short time, the coach said Russell firmly left his mark on the program.
“From the standpoint of what he has meant to this program, I don’t know if he has been truly appreciated what people got to witness this year in terms of his play,” Matta said. “There was some stuff taken for granted. As a coach and a staff we never did that. We knew we had something special and just shear enjoyment of coaching this young man for a season has been one of the greatest moments of my life. As sad as I am to see him leave our program, I’m excited because I feel in my gut that he has a future at the next level that is going to be something special.”