Sullinger Making Statement with Final Four Run
By Brandon Castel
NEW ORLEANS — Jared Sullinger is making a statement.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Every time he steps on the floor, every time he puts on the Ohio State uniform, every time he picks up a basketball or pulls down a rebound, Sullinger is proving a point.
Life is about choices, and Sullinger is telling the world that sometimes there are more important things than getting paid.
It’s a message that often falls on deaf ears.
“I wanted to make a statement that not everybody is using college basketball as a pit stop to go to the next level,” Sullinger said on the eve of his first Final Four game in New Orleans.
“There's more than money and endorsements. There's championships that you got to win at every level. That's what I pride myself on.”
A lot of athletes talk about winning championships, but Sullinger simply goes out and does it. The 6-9 forward won a state championship at Columbus Northland High School and anchored one of the top AAU teams in the country.
That was where he first got to play with his point guard, Aaron Craft.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“This is year five with Jared. He's one of the greatest guys to be around on and off the court,” Craft said Friday.
“He's done a great job of dealing with everything that's come with him coming back, the pressure, the outside influences that tried to get at him. It's just been great to see him handle it.”
Sullinger was one of the most celebrated players in the country as a freshman. He averaged over 17 points and 10 rebounds per game in one of the tougher conference in college basketball.
With Sullinger in the middle, the Buckeyes went 32-2 during the regular season. They won the regular season and tournament titles in the Big Ten, and Sullinger was named National Freshman of the Year.
He was one of the hottest names in basketball, not just college, but also on the NBA radar. Sullinger was all but guaranteed to be a top-10 pick in the draft after his rookie season at Ohio State, but when the Buckeyes fell short of reaching the Final Four, he was quick to put all of his NBA dreams on hold.
“I've won a championship all the way from elementary to now, and now trying to look towards the bigger trophy in the national championship,” Sullinger said.
“I pride myself on winning. That's the biggest thing. That's why I came back.”
In the end it could cost Sullinger millions, or at least hundreds of thousands, depending on how far he slips down the draft board. The latest NBA mock drafts have him going anywhere from No. 6 to No. 9 this summer, assuming he decides to turn pro after his sophomore season.
Sullinger has had to overcome a lot of obstacles. It hasn’t always been exactly what he expected when he decided to return for his sophomore season. First there was the back injury, and the plantar fasciitis that kept him out of two games early in the season.
Then came the month of February, where Sullinger experienced as many losses in a two-week span as he had during his entire freshman season at Ohio Sate.
His toughness was questioned.
Same with his athleticism.
The whole basketball world seemed to be asking what was wrong with Jared Sullinger, especially after he scored only eight points in a 63-60 loss to Wisconsin on Senior Day in Columbus.
That may very well have been the lowest point of Sullinger’s career, at any level, but like all great champions do, he has responded with some of his best play over the month.
Because of it, the Buckeyes are playing in the Final Four, and Sullinger is one win away from a chance to accomplish everything he set out to do when he returned for a second season at Ohio State.
“I think that he's put a stamp on this program,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said.
“He's going to be known as one of the all‑time greatest players to wear the scarlet and gray. I think that is something that is important to him. He's won at the highest level.”
There are only four teams in New Orleans this week, and the Buckeyes are one of them. Sullinger has played an enormous roll in that. He is averaging 18 points and eight rebounds per game in the NCAA Tournament, and that includes the 12 points he scored against Loyola-Maryland in a 78-59 victory to open the tournament.
He is averaging 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game since that loss to the Badgers, and the Buckeyes have lost only once—a 68-64 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.
Sullinger is climbing back up the draft boards with his play in the postseason, but more just as importantly, he is having fun playing the game he loves.
“It’s helped him enjoy maybe one of the greatest times of his life,” Matta said.
“College is college. It's fun. There's not a person in this room that wouldn't beg to go back to college. He's enjoyed that experience.”
He won’t be able to enjoy it fully unless he’s the one cutting down the nets on Monday night.
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