Sullinger Feeling Better, Status Still in Question for Kansas Game
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thad Matta scoffed at the notion Ohio State might be a different team against Kansas without Jared Sullinger on the floor.
watches the Texas-Pan American game in sweats as he tries to recover from back problems.
Photo by Jim Davidson
He quickly cracked a smile and chuckled at his own joke, only Matta won’t be laughing Saturday if they have to play without him.
The Buckeyes know they are going to need a heavy dose of their star sophomore if they are going to knock off the 13th-ranked Jayhawks in Lawrence. What they don’t know is whether or nor Sullinger will be ready to return to the court after missing the past game with back spasms.
“We still don’t know. He’s doing more every day, but quite honestly I don’t know if we’ll know until Saturday whether he’s going to play or not,” Matta said Thursday.
“It’s amazing how much better he’s moving and all those things. We’ve got two more days to look at it, but we don’t know for sure what he’s going to do to.”
Sullinger has been at practice this week, but has not participated fully since tweaking his back during Ohio State’s 85-63 win over Duke back on Nov. 29. Despite going for 21 points and eight rebounds against the Blue Devils, Sullinger was limping around after the game.
An MRI revealed that he had an aggravated disc in his back and Sullinger sat out during the Buckeyes’ 64-35 win over Texas-Pan American. He was hoping a week off for finals would allow him to return to the court at the Allen Fieldhouse against one of the top rebounding teams in college basketball.
“Jared looks kind of tough, but he’s a big teddy bear,” said OSU point guard Aaron Craft, who has a relationship with the team’s big man dating back to their AAU days.
“He is looking a lot better. He was walking around really gingerly about four or five days ago, but now he’s looking a lot better walking. He’s got the bounce back in his step.”
Roommate Evan Ravenel, who replaced Sullinger in the starting lineup against UTPA, said Jared has been laying around the apartment this week because of the back spasms. He will make the trip to Lawrence with the team this weekend, but whether or not he plays in the game will largely depend on how feels Saturday around 3:15 p.m. ET.
“It’s kind of on him, sort of how he feels,” Matta said.
“I know we had the deal a couple years ago where William (Buford) literally stride-stopped on a passing drill and was laying on the floor. It was right after Evan (Turner) got hurt and we were going to Butler. We honestly didn’t know until tipoff whether he was going to play or not and he’s kind of been unscathed since then.”
While the Buckeyes would love to continue their unbeaten ways against the Jayhawks, who have lost a pair of close games to Kentucky and Duke, they are not going to take any chances with Sullinger.
Especially after Sullinger passed up a guaranteed spot in the NBA lottery to return to Ohio State for his sophomore season.
“I think it’s more of just a feel. I told him and I told (his dad) Satch, I’m thinking big picture here, much more than Saturday’s game,” Matta said.
“I want to make sure he is as good as he can possibly be and no further risk of anything else going on.”
Sullinger likely would not have been able to play if the Kansas game had been a mid-week contest, but Matta is hoping that a week and a half of rest will allow him to return to the court Saturday.
“He hasn’t said. He just told me he feels ‘great.’ And that was three minutes ago or five minutes ago,” Matta said.
“He said he feels a lot better. He said he woke up and was dancing this morning, but I don’t know what that entails.”
Even if he is out there for the opening tip on Saturday, there is no telling exactly how a back injury will respond to the kind pounding Sullinger takes down in the paint. He would be facing one of the toughest frontcourts in the country in 7-0 center Jeff Withey and 6-9 forward Thomas Robinson, one of the premier post players in the country.
His teammates wouldn’t be surprised, however, to see Sullinger show up and dominate the game in spite of his injury.
“Playing in AAU with him, he would do the same thing,” Craft said.
“He would go throughout the weekend and maybe not feel the greatest and come out and have 40 points and 20 rebounds. It’s hard to get a read on a guy like Jared. He’s an interesting individual.”
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