Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell files for NBA draft but leaves open possibility of return to Buckeyes

Staff reports
Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell, here defending Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu, finished second on the team in scoring (16.2 points per game) and first in rebounding (6.7) and was named first-team all-Big Ten.

Ohio State sophomore forward E.J. Liddell said he has filed paperwork with the NBA to test his draft status while making a decision about where he will play next season.

In social media posts on Wednesday, Liddell said, "After spending time consulting with my family and coaches I have decided I will be entering my name into the 2021 NBA Draft while maintaining my college eligibility.

"Reaching the NBA has always been a dream of mine ever since I started playing basketball with my first YMCA team. Timing is everything, trust I won't rush."

Filing the paperwork allows Liddell to get feedback from NBA scouts while he makes his decision on whether to return to school. The deadline to withdraw from this year's draft is July 19. The draft is July 29.

After a strong freshman season, Liddell blossomed as a sophomore. He finished second on the team in scoring (16.2 points per game), tops in rebounding (6.7) and third in average minutes played (29.3) while being named first-team all-Big Ten by the league’s coaches.

The Buckeyes have the potential to return everyone from this year’s roster save for fifth-year senior CJ Walker, who has announced he will pursue a professional career. The NCAA has given all players an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic, which means senior Kyle Young could come back for a fifth year if he wants. If he does, he won’t count against the scholarship limit of 13.

Ohio State basketball: Rob Oller: Buckeyes' Liddell fights loud social-media hate with quiet correction

If everyone returns, including Liddell, the Buckeyes would bring back 89.3% of their scoring. That would also include guard Duane Washington, a third-team all-Big Ten pick this year who would be a senior next season.

In a recent interview, Liddell sounded optimistic about the Buckeyes' future.

“If everybody puts in the work they need in the offseason, it’ll be pretty hard to beat us,” he said. 

Liddell is Ohio State’s first player named first-team all-Big Ten since Keita Bates-Diop was the 2018 player of the year. It’s been eight years since a Buckeye was named to the first team and didn’t leave school early when Aaron Craft, as a junior, was picked to the team in 2013 alongside teammate Deshaun Thomas, who did not return for a senior year.

Buckeyes basketball: Ohio State's E.J. Liddell to play in front of '#1 fan' when Buckeyes host Illinois

Since the 2014-15 season, twenty first-team Big Ten players have had the option to return for at least one more season. Of those 20, 12 opted to remain in college basketball.

Of those 12, nine either helped their teams to a better win total or a deeper postseason run. The three exceptions:

-- As a sophomore in 2017, Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ was a first-team selection for the first of three straight years. The 2016-17 Badgers went 27-10 and lost in the Sweet Sixteen and followed that up by going 15-18 and missing the tournament the next year as Happ was again a first-team pick.

-- A junior in 2017, Nate Mason helped Minnesota to a 24-10 record and a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament. The next year, the Golden Gophers went 15-17 and did not participate in the 2018 postseason.

-- Also a junior, Cassius Winston helped Michigan State to a 32-7 record and a spot in the 2019 Final Four. He would not get an NCAA Tournament in 2020, and the Spartans ended the year at 22-9 so this might be more of a push.

As a sophomore, Ohio State center Kaleb Wesson led the team with 14.6 points and 6.9 rebounds and was named honorable mention all-Big Ten. He went through the draft process, gathered that feedback and returned as a junior to average 14.0 points and 9.3 rebounds, both team-high totals, before opting to turn pro following the season. He was not drafted and played in the NBA’s G League this season.