He arrived on campus as the highest-rated recruit to play basketball for Ohio State since D’Angelo Russell.
Now, after one season, D.J. Carton is moving on. Thursday, the former five-star recruit announced that he had entered the transfer portal, putting an end to an often exciting and equally emotional season with the Buckeyes.
In 20 games, he was Ohio State’s third-leading scorer and responsible for some of the most explosive dunks of the season. Yet for the final 11 games of the coronavirus-shortened season, Carton was away from his teammates on an indefinite leave of absence to address his mental health issues.
"Buckeye Nation, I first want to say thank you to all the Ohio State fans who supported me during the difficult times I went through this year," Carton said in a statement posted to Twitter. "I also want to thank the university, my teammates, the coaches and all of the staff who went above and beyond to help my family and me this year.
"After some careful thought and consideration, I have decided to make a fresh start and enter the transfer portal. I wish Coach (Chris) Holtmann and my teammates the best of luck next year. Please respect my decision."
When he enrolled, Carton was listed a four-star prospect, the No. 34 national recruit, the top prospect from Iowa and the nation’s No. 4 point guard, according to the 247Sports.com composite database. He picked the Buckeyes from a final three that included Michigan and Indiana.
Carton was instrumental in what felt like a statement win against No. 6-ranked Kentucky in Las Vegas on Dec. 21, finishing with 15 points, five rebounds, two assists and just one turnover, but his turnovers would increase as the season progressed. He topped out with seven in an eight-point road loss to Indiana on Jan. 11, and the coaching staff began the process of moving him off the ball more to allow him to be more reactive rather than force him into a decision-making role.
It seemed to get both Carton and the Buckeyes back on track, and he responded with a 17-point effort in a road win against Northwestern on Jan. 26 in which he had three assists and just one turnover.
But four days later, Carton stepped away from the team indefinitely. At the time, the Buckeyes were 13-7 overall and 3-6 in Big Ten play. In statements on Twitter, both Carton and his mother, Jennifer, stated that he would return to the program and be stronger when he did.
No specific reason has been given for his departure. It’s unclear where he will play next season.
"We 100% support D.J. in this decision and we genuinely wish him all the best moving forward," Holtmann said in a statement. "We appreciate all he contributed to our program. We will assist him in any way we can."
After leaving the program, Carton returned to his hometown of Bettendorf, Iowa, and continued classwork there for a while. He returned to Ohio State but not to the team on Feb. 20, needing to pass an extensive medical protocol before being allowed to rejoin the Buckeyes in any official capacity.
That ultimately never transpired. He had already been ruled out of the Big Ten tournament before it was canceled, and it was unlikely that he would have been cleared to return in time for the NCAA Tournament.
In a live video on Instagram after the transfer news broke, Buckeyes Luther Muhammad and Kaleb Wesson both said they had no idea why Carton was leaving and that they found out when everyone else did.
Carton averaged 10.4 points in 20 games that included three starts. Without him, the Buckeyes have four guards on the roster for next season: senior CJ Walker and juniors Musa Jallow, Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr.
It’s not likely to be the only roster change for the Buckeyes. Freshman Alonzo Gaffney was not with the team for the final four games of the season and is a possible transfer candidate.
Also, Ohio State remains in the running for Harvard transfer and Northland graduate Seth Towns, who is set to pick a new school this week.