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Liddell joins elite group of returning first-team All-Big Ten Buckeyes

The star forward is on a very short list of first-team All-Big Ten Buckeyes to return to the program the following year.
The star forward is on a very short list of first-team All-Big Ten Buckeyes to return to the program the following year. (USA Today Sports)

COLUMBUS, Ohio –– Even if expected, E.J. Liddell’s recent decision to return to the Ohio State program for a junior season was a critical one for the Buckeyes’ success in 2021-22 –– especially with last year’s leading scorer Duane Washington opting to leave the team just days earlier.

RELATED: E.J. Liddell to return for Ohio State

Remove any awards or honors to quantify Liddell’s sophomore year, and it was clear that the Illinois native was the Buckeyes’ best all-around player, scoring a team second-best 16.2 points per game and leading Ohio State with 6.7 rebounds a night.

His return keeps the Buckeyes in potential contendership for a Big Ten title, even if Washington’s departure may have chipped into the program’s hopes to begin the year as a top-five team in the country.

ALSO: How Duane Washington’s departure impacts Ohio State

But given that Liddell was a first-team All-Big Ten performer last season, his return is also historically significant, as he is just the sixth Buckeye to return to the team after achieving first-team all-conference status in the past 40 years.

That’s right, out of the 25 times that an Ohio State basketball player has been named to the All-Big Ten first team since 1980-81, including 16 times during the 21st century, just five players before Liddell actually came back for another season with the Buckeyes the following year.

Oh, and most of them did some pretty special things on the hardwood during the year in which they returned.

Given just how exclusive the company is that Liddell will join in his return after a first-team All-Big Ten season for the Buckeyes, let’s look at the past five Buckeyes to precede him in doing so, and take a look at what they accomplished during their comeback season.

Jared Sullinger: Returned in 2011-12

Sullinger was a two-time All-American for the Buckeyes.
Sullinger was a two-time All-American for the Buckeyes. ((AP Photo/Elise Amendola))

The Columbus native and Northland High School alum was a five-star prospect and Rivals’ No. 5 overall recruit in the class of 2010, and he instantly turned Thad Matta’s Buckeyes into national championship contenders as a true freshman.

The 6-foot-9, 265-pound force of nature put up 17.2 points per game and 10.2 rebounds, leading the Buckeyes to Big Ten regular season and tournament championships while winning the conference’s Freshman of the Year award and becoming both a first-team All-Big Ten performer as well as an All-American.

After securing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament though, Sullinger’s Buckeyes stumbled to lose to John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet Sixteen by just two points.

With a lockout season approaching in the NBA, Sullinger returned for the Buckeyes the following year and put forth a similarly stellar campaign. Sullinger averaged 17.5 points and 9.2 boards, leading the Buckeyes to another regular season title in the Big Ten, and once again secured first-team All-Big Ten and All-American status.

Sullinger also led Ohio State deeper into the NCAA Tournament despite holding a No. 2 seed, as the Buckeyes made it all the way to the Final Four before dropping to Kansas by two points.

Sullinger went on to be drafted No. 21 overall by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA Draft.

Evan Turner: Returned in 2009-10

Turner swept the national player of the year awards upon his return.
Turner swept the national player of the year awards upon his return. (Associated Press)

Chicago native Evan Turner was a top 50 prospect in Matta’s 2007 class, and after turning in a standout freshman campaign that saw him start 30 games for Ohio State, he turned it up another notch the following year.

As a true sophomore in 2007-08, Turner averaged 17.3 points per game on better than 50 percent shooting, and added 7.1 rebounds and four assists per night. The Buckeyes suffered a disappointing first-round NCAA Tournament defeat to Siena in double overtime, but Turner was a bright spot on the season, being named first-team All-Big Ten.

Turner returned for a junior season, and the 6-foot-7 Swiss army knife took the college basketball world by storm, averaging 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and six assists per contest as he went on to sweep the national player of the year awards.

With standout wings David Lighty, William Buford and Jon Diebler by his side, Turner led the Buckeyes to both Big Ten regular season and tournament championships, beating Michigan with a near-halfcourt buzzer beater in the process.

The Buckeyes secured a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but lost to No. 6 seed Tennessee 76-73 in the Sweet Sixteen. Turner went on to be drafted No. 2 overall, with only John Wall being taken ahead of him.

Scoonie Penn: Returned in 1999-00

Penn won Big Ten Player of the Year in his first year on the court with the Buckeyes.
Penn won Big Ten Player of the Year in his first year on the court with the Buckeyes. (Kevin Noon)

Diminutive guard Scoonie Penn had two standout seasons with Boston College before transferring to the Buckeye program in 1997, and by the time he got on the court for Ohio State in the 1998-99 season, it was clear that the Scarlet and Gray had something special on their hands.

Penn was named the Big Ten Player of the Year after averaging 16.9 points per game with 4.3 assists and 3.9 boards. The Buckeyes began the season unranked, but made it all the way to the Final Four as a No. 4 seed behind the prolific pairing of Penn and shooting guard Michael Redd.

Penn returned the following year, leading the Buckeyes to a Big Ten regular season title as he was named a first-team all-conference performer once again with averages of 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

Ohio State entered the NCAA Tournament a No. 3 seed, but failed to live up to the previous year’s run, suffering a second-round tournament loss to No. 6 seed Miami (Florida) by double digits.

Penn ended up playing overseas, but was selected No. 57 overall in the second round of the NBA Draft.

Jim Jackson: Returned in 1991-92

After winning the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year honor in 1989-90, 6-foot-6 guard Jim Jackson one-upped himself the following year, leading the Buckeyes to a regular season title in the Big Ten as he was named conference player of the year with averages of 18.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

Jackson was a consensus All-American along with being named a first-team All-Big Ten performer, and Ohio State secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, the team had a disappointing end to the season as it lost to No. 4 seed St. John’s in the Sweet Sixteen.

Jackson returned for a junior season in 1991-92, once again earning first-team All-Big Ten, conference player of the year and unanimous All-American honors for the best year of his collegiate career. Jackson put up 22.4 points per game, 6.8 rebounds and four assists, leading Ohio State to another Big Ten regular season title alongside Chris Jent and Lawrence Funderburke, and once again entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed.

However, Jackson and company ran into Michigan’s Fab Five in the Elite Eight, dropping an overtime game 75-71 to the Wolverines. The Toledo, Ohio, native went on to be selected No. 4 overall in the subsequent NBA Draft.

Tony Campbell: Returned in 1983-84

Finally, 6-foot-7 forward Tony Campbell is the fifth Buckeye prior to Liddell that returned to the team following a first-team all-conference campaign.

Campbell had already played two seasons in the program before earning All-Big Ten honors as a junior in 1982-83, averaging 19 points a game to go along with 8.3 boards. Under head coach Eldon Miller, Campbell’s Buckeyes made it only to the second round of the NCAA Tournament though, losing to North Carolina after a first-round win over Syracuse.

Campbell returned for his senior season in 1983-84, earning first-team all-conference honors again with averages of 18.6 points and 7.4 rebounds. However, the team’s success did not improve, as the Buckeyes failed to make the NCAA Tournament and lost their first game of the NIT to Xavier.

Campbell was taken No. 20 overall to the Detroit Pistons in the following NBA Draft.