Ross ready for new role as Buckeyes’ go-to scorer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even as he emerged from the ranks of the forgotten to the role of clutch 3-point shooter and go-to scorer for Ohio State last March, the whole “secret weapon” thing was never entirely comfortable for LaQuinton Ross.

Ross has been used to being counted upon to score. A mega-recruit who had generally had nothing but a green light needed a while to find his way at Ohio State, and during last year’s Buckeye run to the Big Ten tournament title and the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, it appeared Ross had found it.

Now, he’s a junior who’s a year smarter, a year stronger and a year more comfortable with his surroundings. Volume shooter and the Big Ten’s leading scorer, Deshaun Thomas is gone. The Buckeyes return four starters — Ross isn’t one of them — and have the pieces to again be a top-10 team nationally if Ross can play up to expectations, both his own and outside expectations. The season is still a month away, but Ross has been going through early practices like he’s ready for his new role.

Hello, green light. Hello, spotlight.

“I’ve definitely been waiting,” Ross said. “There’s always been a buzz about me since I came out of high school and what I was able to do at the end of last year left me looking forward to being even better this year. Scoring is one thing I can do and what everybody has known me for.

“Just to get out there and do it, to know myself that I could do it and to show my coaches and the fans that I could have back-to-back games, do it consistently, that was big.”

An academic issue delayed his arrival to Ohio State in 2011, and a talented roster full of more seasoned players kept him mostly confined to the bench in the 2011-12 season. He started to break out early last season, then went into a mid-season slump. Once he got rolling, though, his lack of big-stage experience and defensive defincies seemed to matter less and less. He can put it in the basket in a variety of ways — and a bunch of times in short spurts, too.

The 6’8 Ross averaged 8.3 points and 3 rebounds per game last season but finished strong, emerging as a confident and consistent scoring option down the stretch. Ross posted 17, 17 and 19 points, respectively, in Ohio State’s last three games, the second and third-best scoring games of his young career.

He shot 52 percent on 3-pointers in the Buckeyes last seven games and finished the year at 39 percent from beyond the 3-point line. This season, there should be even more shots available.

“A lot of times we looked and we looked and we looked for Deshaun,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said of last year’s team. “I don’t want to label a guy and say, ‘Hey, you’re Deshaun and you have to do what he did.’ There are different variables, but I think you’ll see guys have gotten better offensively.

“I think the greatest thing (Ross) has going is that he’s never started a game for Ohio State, so any type of expectation with him starts with cracking the starting lineup. His entire playing career, a lot has been based on potential. We’ve had that discussion. It’s time to be productive and most importantly, it’s time to be consistent.

“That’s more important, to me, than any outside expectation. It has to be internal. And I think if he thinks that way, good things are going to happen.”

Ross said he spent the summer working on his ball handling, getting quicker and getting stronger. He’s still lean, but a quicker and more confident Ross can cause matchup problems on the perimeter. He said he’ll play in the post — like Thomas did — if necessary, too, and hopes an experienced Buckeye team will have the proper chemistry to get everyone involved.

“I’m not going to try to force anything,” Ross said. “I’m going to take shots I get and hopefully I’ll knock them down.”

Ross said he discussed jumping to the NBA with “people in my circle” and his family last spring but decided another season at Ohio State “was the best decision.” He knows what could be looming but insists it’s not a distraction; that he’s focused solely on what he hopes will be a big season ahead.

“I’m just going to go out and play basketball, man,” Ross said.

And probably be The Man like he’s been waiting to be.