Top young guns returning to campus
Barnes, Lamb, Sullinger are back at school for another season
Jared Sullinger would have been a lottery pick had he entered the NBA Draft after his freshman season at Ohio State.
But his dreams of NBA stardom are on hold for now for one simple reason.
"I wanted to be a kid," Sullinger said. "I also wanted to play for coach (Thad) Matta again and work on being the best player that I can be here at Ohio State."
Sullinger headlines a wave of underclassmen who have opted to stick around for at least another season.
Harrison Barnes is included in that group. The star North Carolina forward poured in 15.7 points per outing a year ago, and his presence next season makes Chapel Hill a possible destination for the 2012 national championship trophy as he is one of five starters back for the Tar Heels.
Defending national champion Connecticut lost Kemba Walker to the draft but star freshman Jeremy Lamb and Alex Oriakhi will return for the Huskies.
Oriakhi averaged 9.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while Lamb, who scored 12 points in the second half of the national final to pace the Huskies to a 53-41 win against Butler at Reliant Stadium in Houston, clicked for 11.1 points per outing.
Huskies head coach Jim Calhoun isn’t surprised at all that so many of the top players in the game are sticking around for at least another year.
"College basketball is a great experience, and unless you are a sure-fire lottery pick, most guys realize they will benefit from being in school," Calhoun said. "Regardless of any issues like the (NBA) labor situation."
Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings echoed those thoughts.
"I would say that, like our guys that came back, they like the college life and the game of college basketball," Stallings said. "They are comfortable with their situations and while I think the labor situation may have swayed a few guys, I think the majority of them like playing college basketball."
Potential of a lockout loomed all year and it became official at midnight on July 1.
Jeffery Taylor, who will be a senior at Vanderbilt and is coming off a season in which he averaged 14.7 points per game and dished out 80 assists, said the labor problems had some influence on his decision.
"You don’t want to go in as a rookie in that kind of situation," Taylor said. "They won’t have a summer league, and worst comes to worst, they probably won’t have a training camp. Rookies will suffer because they won’t have time to get acclimated to a new system. That would be detrimental to a rookie’s progression."
Orakhi said he never considered going to the draft, although if he had, he said Calhoun would have let him know if it was the right move to make. By coming back to UConn, he will have a chance to improve his game before he heads to the NBA.
"UConn has a great history of big men moving on to the NBA, and just by working hard and improving, I will have a chance to play in the league in the future," Oriahki said.
Sullinger also talked about improvements he wants to make to his game.
"I want to show off all of my talents," Sullinger said. "I want to work on being a better shooter, get better at handling the ball and get better at being able to defend the athletic four position."
Falling short of playing for a championship played a role in players coming back as well.
"Obviously, you want to win, and I feel like we’ve won a lot of games since I’ve been here, but we haven’t won anything that people will remember," Taylor said. "That was the big key in wanting to come back."
Sullinger helped Ohio State advance deep into the tourney before its dream of a Final Four bid died against Kentucky. He hasn’t forgotten how it felt to walk off the floor in disappointment and is determined to see his sophomore season end at the Superdome in New Orleans next April.
"Falling short of the Final Four was a big factor in wanting to come back to school," Sullinger said. "My dream is to play there and we know what need to do to have a chance to get there. The experience of last year is going to help us reach that goal."
|Harrison Barnes||Soph.||North Carolina||Forward||15.7|
|Jared Sullinger||Soph.||Ohio State||Forward||17.2|