RUSTY MILLER,AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS: Those two neat rows of smiling players, one seated in front of the other, wearing clean, white uniforms? That was not the group picture of Ohio State's point guards, it was the team picture.
"I don't know," disagreed Jon Diebler, one of four Buckeyes starters. "It might have been."
Make no mistake about it, Ohio State is loaded with talent as it begins workouts for the 2010-11 season. It's just that the Buckeyes have all four returning starters except for the one who played the point — and happened to be the best player in the country.
Evan Turner, the Associated Press Player of the Year last season, left a year early to be the No. 2 overall draft pick by the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 6-foot-7 junior stepped into the vacant point guard spot a year ago and averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and six assists while leading the Buckeyes (29-8) to a share of the regular-season Big Ten title, the conference's tournament crown and a trip to the NCAA regional semifinals.
"Oh, we're going to miss Evan," said leading returning scorer William Buford (14.4 ppg). "He was more like a brother to us than anything. On the court we're going to miss him a lot. He brought a lot and was the best player in college basketball last year."
In his place, the Buckeyes will likely go with a point guard by committee.
When Turner broke bones in his back during an ugly spill while dunking that caused him to miss six games, Buford, Diebler and David Lighty each took on a piece of the point guard job. Now they might do it again.
"When we played in the summer, honestly, whoever got the ball brought it up — either Will, Jon or David, played the point," starting forward Dallas Lauderdale said. "They got the rebound, they brought it up. No problem. Or if I got the rebound, I would pass to one of them. There really wasn't a set point guard I was looking for. All three of them, whoever I saw first I passed the ball to them."
No matter who fills the position, there's no need to feel sorry for coach Thad Matta, who has already lost enough players early to the NBA to stock an entire franchise.
He brought in a glittering recruiting class that some publications pegged as tops in the nation. Two-time Ohio Mr. Basketball Jared Sullinger, a 6-foot-9 forward, is joined by 6-7 Indiana prep scoring champion (with more than 3,000 career points) Deshaun Thomas, and Aaron Craft, an athletic blur who might just end up taking over on the point. Sullinger's teammate at Columbus' powerful Northland High School, 6-7 J.D. Weatherspoon, Illinois standout Lenzelle Smith Jr. (out with a hand injury) and Cincinnati-area guard Jordan Sibert round out the class.
The Buckeyes have plenty of options.
"We can go real big, we can go quick and fast, we can spread the floor with shooters, we can get it inside, we can press full court, we can zone up," said Lighty, recovered from a broken foot suffered early in the offseason. "There's a lot of different things we can do with the team we have this year."
Sullinger is an intriguing possibility. He's coming off a season where he won the Naismith Award as the top high school player in America while averaging 24.5 points and 11.7 rebounds. The last Ohioan to receive that honor was LeBron James.
With Sullinger in the lineup, the Buckeyes gain a scoring threat in the frontcourt, with the offensively challenged but rebounding and defensively gifted Lauderdale on the opposite block.
"I don't want him to come in here with tremendous pressure on him," said Matta, 156-54 in six years at Ohio State with at least 20 wins each season. "He's a great kid, he's a great teammate. He's a winner, a very competitive kid. He's got a great sense of how to play the game and he's got talent. Points, rebounds, I really don't know, I just hope he's productive."