Sullinger Vows He’s Coming Back After Tough Loss
By Brandon Castel
NEWARK, N.J. — Jared Sullinger wasn’t the first Ohio State underclassman to face questions about his future after a tough loss in the NCAA Tournament, but the young freshman handled his business like a man.
“I’m going to be here, in an Ohio State uniform next year,” a somber Sullinger said sitting in the locker room after the Buckeyes’ 62-60 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
The National Freshman of the Year finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds, but the Buckeyes came up one play short of advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
Ohio State lost to Florida in the national championship game that season, and eventually lost a trio of freshmen—Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Deaquan Cook—to the NBA. Despite expectations that he would do the same, Sullinger says he isn’t planning to follow their footsteps after what he saw Friday night in Newark.
“I don’t like the look in people’s eyes and I didn’t like the taste we had in our mouths,” Sullinger said after experiencing just the third loss of his college career.
“I don’t like losing. I hate losing. If I made a decision about next year, it would be off of a win, not a loss.”
In other words, Sullinger’s decision might have been different had the Buckeyes won the national title this season. They were the favorites in the field of 68, but couldn’t put the ball in the basket when it mattered most.
Obviously it was an emotional night for Sullinger, who has won championships at every previous level. He certainly isn’t the first underclassman to guarantee his return, especially while having to look around the locker room at his teammates, a number of them with tears in their eyes.
But something about Sullinger’s promise seemed to be different, even than the one Conley made the 2007 national title game.
“I'm a man of my word,” he said.
“I won't change my mind for nobody. This is what I want. This is where I'm happy. I'm happy being an Ohio State Buckeye and playing for coach (Thad) Matta.”
Although he has not commented on Sullinger’s future all year long, Matta was quick to reveal that he has known for quite some time that the 6-foot-9 freshman planned to return for his sophomore season at Ohio State.
“He told me from day-one he'd be back for two years,” Matta said in the locker room after the game.
“He said, 'Draw me up a contract, whatever you want me to do, I'll sign it.'”
It is rare that a player projected as highly as Sullinger in the NBA draft would return for another year at the collegiate level, but Friday’s loss to Kentucky was an indication that he might be better served with a little more seasoning.
Totaling 21 points and 16 rebounds, including eight at the offensive end, is an impressive night for anyone, but Sullinger also had a number of shots blocked. He also forced up a bad miss off the side of the backboard in the closing minutes after he couldn’t get by Harrellson the block.
Those are things he will learn next year.
“With him, his freshman year was as good as I've ever seen a freshman have,” Matta said of Sullinger, who averaged 17.1 points and 10 rebounds per game.
“I think all the things he learned this year, with a great off-season, I have no doubt he'll be the best player in college basketball.”
He nearly was this year.
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