COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — After collecting almost every national player of the year honor, Ohio State's Evan Turner is skipping his senior season to test himself in the NBA.
The 6-foot-7 point guard is expected to be a top-three pick in the June 24 draft. Yet he said his decision wasn't an easy one.
"This is the toughest thing I had to do," he said, his voice breaking. "But I was blessed with this decision and I have a great opportunity. I'm going to turn a leaf over and go on to the next stage of my life."
The Chicago native averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6 assists while shooting 52 percent from the field, 36.4 percent behind the arc and 76 percent at the line.
Turner was moved to point guard before the season, a decision by coach Thad Matta that raised some eyebrows because Turner had never played the position and had been prone to making mistakes with the ball.
But with Turner leading the way the Buckeyes went a surprising 29-8 (second-most wins in school history); won a share of the Big Ten title; took the conference tournament championship; and advanced to the NCAA tournament round of 16 before falling to Tennessee.
Even Matta said he knew it was time for Turner to make the leap to the next level.
"I told him up front, I'm OK if you go," he said. "I said, 'Coach Matta wants you back, but Thad Matta is OK if you go.' (It's) knowing what's right for him."
Turner said it wasn't until late in the season that his mind wandered to his decision.
"February hit and I kind of started thinking a little bit about it," he said. "I was in a win-win situation. I felt like if I would have come back we could have done big things, and also moving on and going to the NBA I could do good things. I had to look at what was going to make me happy."
A first-team All-American, Turner had a huge year despite missing 4½ weeks with broken bones in his back. He was injured while dunking during a game on Dec. 5, and had to go through extensive rehab before returning. The Buckeyes were just 3-3 without him.
He said the injury had little effect on his decision.
"You can't really tell what's going to go on with fate," Turner said. "I tried to make the decision as a grown man looking toward the future."
Turner has not hired an agent, but made it clear he is not waffling.
"I felt that whatever I did, I had to have two feet in," he said. "I had to be committed. This is the decision I'm committed (to)."
Before the injury, he had triple-doubles in two of the Buckeyes' first five games. Even in the second round of the NCAA tournament, he flirted with another triple-double with 24 points, nine rebounds and nine assists against Georgia Tech.
A near-unanimous pick for Big Ten player of the year after leading the league in scoring, rebounding and finishing second in assists, he guided Ohio State to wins in 16 of its final 18 games heading into the NCAA tournament.
The conference tournament provided his signature moment. He took an inbounds pass, dribbled to just past midcourt and hit a 37-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat archrival Michigan 69-68 in the quarterfinals. Two days later, he had 31 points, 11 rebounds and six assists as the Buckeyes beat Minnesota to win the tournament.
The Associated Press Player of the Year this season said it wasn't up to him how he would be remembered.
"The people who guard (you), they pretty much build your legacy," he said. "You don't build your own legacy. We'll see in 10 or 15 years."
Not even the top player on his high school team (Illinois' Demetri McCamey was considered more of a blue-chipper), Turner set a record by being chosen Big Ten player of the week 10 times during his career, including an unprecedented seven times this season.
Turner foundered early in his college career, unsure of what his role was in Matta's offense. But he sure came around.
Ohio State honors national players of the year by putting their numbers on a banner hanging from the ceiling of Value City Arena. Turner, the Naismith Award winner, will join such luminaries as Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Gary Bradds and Jim Jackson in that honor.
Because he declared for the NBA draft before an April 12 deadline, his departure will not lead to Ohio State receiving an Academic Progress Rate penalty. The basketball program was penalized after the late withdrawals of Greg Oden (2007) and Kosta Koufos (2008).
The third pick in June's draft is guaranteed more than $7 million for the first two years of his contract, the second pick nearly $8 million and the top pick almost $9 million.
Ohio State has a strong recruiting class, led by the Naismith Award winner at the high school level, 6-9 Jared Sullinger of Columbus' Northland High School.
"I had great times here, but I leave the program in great hands," Turner said. "Obviously we have a lot of great players coming in and a lot of great players right now. We're going to stay on top."