Buckeyes trio stake claim for the NBA

Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook will test the professional draft.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Greg Oden is through with school.
The 7-foot freshman said Friday 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 Texas freshman forward Kevin Durant.
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 Matta, and I feel the time is right."
None of the players were available for comment. Conley is expected to be an honorary head coach for today's spring football game. Oden is out of town to attend his aunt's wedding.
Matta not surprised
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 like Oden, coupled with the team's trip to the national championship game this season, would still 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," Matta said.
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.
After getting a late start at Ohio State because of a wrist injury, Oden, 19, lived up to his billing as a two-time national high school player of the year, leading the Buckeyes in scoring (15.7) and rebounding (9.6) per game and topping the Big Ten in shooting percentage (.616).
His best game may have been his last one, when he scored 25 points and had 12 rebounds while dominating against Al Horford and Joakim Noah of Florida.
Oden had surgery on his right (shooting) wrist to reattach ligaments last June 16. He worked out with the team while wearing a cast that eventually became an elastic brace. After missing the first seven games, he came in and -- despite shooting free throws and most of his other shots left-handed -- had an immediate impact.
He and Conley -- friends and teammates since the sixth grade in Terre Haute, Ind. -- led Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis to three consecutive state championships and a 103-7 record.
Conley clutch player
The 6-1 Conley, who many believed was just a throw-in for recruiting Oden, ended up setting Ohio State records with 238 assists while handling the ball almost all the time against high-pressure defenses. His assist-to-turnover ratio was among the best in the nation at 2.77, with only 86 turnovers in 39 games -- a little more than two per contest.
When Oden fouled out late in the Buckeyes' second-round NCAA game against Xavier -- and Ron Lewis hit a clutch 3-pointer in the final seconds -- it was Conley who scored 11 points in the overtime to lead Ohio State to a 78-71 victory.
The only knock on Conley is his outside shooting. He hit just 30 percent of his 3-pointers, although he was a 52-percent shooter from the field -- mostly on layups after scissoring through defenses trying to double-team Oden.
Cook got off to a fast start for the Buckeyes, but wilted down the stretch. He was averaging more than 15 points a game midway through January before finishing at 9.8. After leading Ohio State in scoring seven times in its first 15 games, he failed to do it again over the Buckeyes' last 24 starts.
Cook started just one game all season for the Buckeyes, but the 6-6 swingman was their second-leading rebounder.
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.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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