Junior guard Evan Turner could be playing his last home game in the scarlet and gray. A projected top-five pick in this year's NBA draft should he opt to leave school a year early, Turner turned down the opportunity a year ago because he wanted to add things such as conference championships and NCAA Tournament runs to his résumé before moving on.
Monday, Turner said his goals for his OSU career were to "definitely win a Big Ten title and try to get a national championship and try to be one of the best ever to come out of here."
So does that mean a loss tonight to the Fighting Illini (9 p.m. ESPN) that could deny the Buckeyes a shot at a conference title would result in a greater likelihood of Turner passing up the NBA for a second straight season?
"I think there's a greater chance, yes," he said.
It will be the elephant in the room as the Buckeyes honor five seniors prior to tipoff. Most of them have been in the program longer than Turner, but none have had the impact he has had.
After increasing his production totals during his first two seasons, Turner switched to the point guard spot this season and has vaulted into the frontrunner for both the conference and national player of the year awards. Heading into tonight's game, he leads the conference in scoring (19.7 points per game) and rebounding (9.7) and is second in assists (6.7) and steals (1.9).
Last year, Turner said he did not head to the NBA because he simply was not ready to do so. In part, he cited his love for OSU as a reason for staying.
Head coach Thad Matta has lost five freshmen to the NBA in the past three seasons. Turner is a different case if not only for the fact that he has stuck around and clearly grown as a player in the process.
Although the two have not sat down and talked about Turner's future, Matta characterized him as the type of player who would like to spend four years in college. Monday, the coach cited a conversation he had during the summer with former OSU football standout Bobby Carpenter about the situation.
"He said, ‘Coach, people say you can go back to college. You can't go back to college. You can go back to school, but you can't go back to college,' " Matta said. "I think that's a great statement. Evan is a guy that in my opinion enjoys being here. I think the kid truly enjoys Ohio State."
Matta said Turner is involved in all facets of the program, even asking the coaches for the latest recruiting news for the Buckeyes.
Turner said it was a dream of his to head to the NBA after his freshman season but that it took him time to adjust to the level of play in college. During the early going, the Chicago native said he could not figure out how to drive the ball inside the three-point line because the players defending him were both bigger and stronger than he was.
Talk of heading to the next level intensified during a sophomore season in which Turner helped lead the Buckeyes back into the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus. He admitted to thinking about the NBA at times last season but kept coming back to the fact that he had more to accomplish at this level.
This season, Matta has consistently praised Turner for devoting himself to the season and not going through the year with one foot out the door.
Junior forward David Lighty echoed Matta's thoughts on the topic and said the team would hold no ill will toward Turner should he pursue his dream and head to the NBA after the season.
"It's a lot of people's dream to go to the NBA, so you can't deny someone their dream if they have an opportunity to go do it," he said. "Of course you would love for them to come back but it's being selfish if you say, ‘If you leave you don't love us' or ‘You're not really thinking about the team.' "
Coming back for a senior season is not out of the question, either. With a top-ranked recruiting class set to enroll, the Buckeyes figure to be one of the favorites to win a national championship next season should Turner stick around.
"I definitely like it here and I felt like if I stay, it wouldn't hurt," he said. "I'm going to get better as a basketball player (and) keep maturing as a person. We have a great class coming in and great players that are returning and it's only going to go up and up."
Perhaps not surprisingly, Turner said the thought had not crossed his mind that tonight could also be his de facto senior night.
"I haven't really thought about it at all," he said. "You definitely want to win on senior day, whoever's senior day it is. You have all those people coming into town for your teammates. You definitely want to win. It's the last game of the season at home. That's pretty much it. That's all I've thought about it."
The same can not be said for OSU fans, who might have to take a last, long look at Turner when the ball is tipped tonight.
"I think he loves his teammates," Matta said. "I think he loves the environment he's in here in Columbus. Those guys are hard to come by."