COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Greg Oden is through with school.
The 7-foot freshman said on Friday that he will leave Ohio State
after leading the Buckeyes to the national championship game and
enter the NBA draft, where he figures to be one of the top two
picks along with Kevin Durant of Texas.
Freshman teammates Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook also said
they will make themselves available for the draft. Unlike Oden,
they have opted not to hire an agent for now -- meaning they will
retain the option of returning to school in the fall.
"This is a very tough decision for me," Oden said in a
statement released by Ohio State. "I love OSU and love being a
Buckeye, but I also have a great opportunity to take my game to the
next level and compete with the best players in the world. I've
discussed this with family, friends and Coach [Thad] Matta, and I
feel the time is right."
All three players were key figures this past season for the
Buckeyes, who went 35-4 to set a mark for victories. Ohio State won the Big
Ten's regular-season and tournament titles before advancing to
their first national championship game since 1962, where they lost
to two-time champion Florida 84-75.
Conley, who could be the top point guard taken, will stay in the draft if he is in the top 10 or at the very least the lottery (picks 1-14). Conley doesn't have to sign with an agent since his father, Mike Conley Sr., will represent him after he was certified as an agent recently and opened up his own company. Conley Sr. is also expected to represent Oden, whom he mentored and coached as a youth in Indiana.
Meanwhile, Cook isn't expected to sign with an agent, at least early in the process. That could change in the coming weeks if he receives a positive vibe about where he would land in the draft.
At a news conference Friday afternoon, Matta said the departure of the three players, though expected, would leave a hole in the program. Matta said he was proud of their accomplishments and hoped that the success of players such as Oden, coupled with the team's trip to the national championship game, will lure talented recruits.
"Honestly, it's been kind of a goal of mine to have a player selected as high as Greg is going to be," Matta said. "This is a situation where we've got to handle it and continue to build."
Ohio State is a quarter-system school and since NBA workouts with teams cannot begin until June 6 after the Orlando pre-draft camp the three are expected to remain in school. A final decision on their academic future will be made next week. Ohio State, like many other schools in a similar situation, is expected to push for the threesome to remain in school. Under a new NCAA directive, students who don't leave in good academic standing and who aren't eligible for the next season could end up hurting a school's academic performance report and could subsequently end up in scholarship reduction for the school.
All three players were key figures this past season for the Buckeyes, who went 35-4 to set a mark for victories and won the Big Ten's regular-season and tournament titles before advancing to their first national championship game since 1962, where they lost to two-time champion Florida 84-75 this month.
Oden led the Buckeyes in scoring with 15.7 points a game, 9.6 rebounds after playing in 32 of the team's 39 games because of offseason right wrist surgery. He started the season shooting free throws left-handed with a brace on his right wrist. He eventually shot them with his right hand. Oden ended the season on a high, scoring 25 points, grabbing 12 boards and blocking four shots in the loss to the Gators.
Among those closely watching Oden is the GM of the Boston Celtics, whose second-place finish gives them a good chance at drafting either the Buckeye phenom or Texas star Kevin Durant. Danny Ainge said Friday he could not comment on Oden until May 3, when the NBA confirms that Oden and Durant's draft paperwork has been filed.
"I can't comment until it's official," Ainge said at Fenway Park before a ceremony to honor late Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach.
Ainge was fined last month after the Big 12 tournament, when he sat next to the mother of the Texas freshman. The league said Ainge violated rules demanding that contact be kept to a minimum between team executives and potential NBA draft picks, until college players officially declare for the draft.
Conley was arguably the team's MVP with his stellar play at the point, including hitting a game-winner over Wisconsin to win the Big Ten regular-season title, scoring 11 points in overtime to beat Xavier in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and scoring 15 points, dishing out six assists and having only one turnover in the national semifinal win over Georgetown. Conley (11.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.1 apg) is widely considered by NBA personnel to be the top point guard in a weak draft for the position this year.
Cook, who played in all 39 games as well as Conley, averaged only 19.7 minutes, scored 9.8 points and 4.3 rebounds a game. His minutes fluctuated during the season with his only single-digit minute games coming in the NCAA Tournament, playing eight against Tennessee, seven against Georgetown and nine against Florida.
The deadline for players making themselves available for the draft is April 29. They can work out for NBA teams and gauge interest -- as long as they do not have an agent -- and have until June 18 to withdraw their names from the draft pool. Conley and Cook still could retain their Ohio State eligibility at that point.
The players are expected to be represented by Conley's father, Mike Conley Sr. He won the Olympic gold medal in the triple jump at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. In addition to running a company (World Sport Chicago) that helped garner that city the U.S. bid for the 2016 Summer Games, he also has created another sports-representation company (Mac Management Group) and applied to the NBA to be a player agent.
The Associated Press and ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz contributed to this report.