Sullinger, Thomas, have different outlooks.

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Last updated: 04/02/2012 9:18 PM

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Men's Basketball
Sullinger’s Time Has Come, Thomas Should Think Twice

By Brandon Castel

COMMENTARY — Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas both have important decisions to make this week.

Jared Sullinger
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jared Sullinger

It seems like the NBA is the logical next step for at least one of these two Buckeyes, but the other might want to think twice about his decision.

Sullinger was projected to be a top 10 pick in last year’s draft, but he surprised many by actually doing what he had set out to do when he committed to the Buckeyes out of high school.

He hasn’t exactly made himself a more attractive commodity for professional scouts during his sophomore season, although he gutted through back and foot injuries this season to earn first-team All-American honors again.

The 6-9, 265-pound forward also showed off a much-improved perimeter game, improving his three-point percentage to 40 percent this year (from 25 percent a year ago), while more than tripling his volume.

That will be important for Sullinger when he does transition his game to the next level, because we have all seen what happens when he tries to overpower taller defenders in the post.

Fortunately for Sullinger, he is going to be a power forward in the NBA, not a center like he was in college. That’s why it was so critical for him to drop the weight during the off-season. He needed to be more mobile, and he will need to continue to improve his mobility at the next level, although he will never be an elite-level athlete like a Blake Griffin.

He doesn’t need to be.

Sullinger is a competitor and a tremendous rebounder. When his mind is right, he’s capable of pulling down double-digit boards every night in the NBA, which is why I’m not buying the Sean May comparisons some have been quick to make lately.

Let’s also not forget that May’s NBA career was cut short by injuries after just one season. He played in 37 games as a rookie and then underwent micro fracture surgery on his right knee the following year.

He also broke his foot after signing with the Nets in 2010.

That’s just bad luck, but some are quick to make the comparison to Sullinger because of the similar body types, and the seemingly growing sentiment that Sullinger has the potential to be a bust at the next level.

The real question is whether Sullinger has something to gain by spending another year at Ohio State—other than furthering his education, which his father, Satch, says will happen regardless of what happens next year.

Sullinger did the two things he set out to do when he passed on the NBA Draft last spring. He got the Buckeyes to the Final Four for the first time since 2006-07, and he proved that it’s okay to pass on the millions in pursuit of a championship.

The Buckeyes could be legitimate contenders for the title again next year if Sullinger and Thomas both return. They lose senior William Buford, the No. 3 scorer in school history, but they have a lot of young talent that should develop over the next year.

But winning titles isn’t easy. If it was, Ohio State would have more than one in school history. Sullinger probably isn’t going to get a whole lot more athletic with another year of college basketball, even if some of it was really because of his health.

Sullinger kind of is who he is. He needs to continue to develop his 15-foot jump shot if he’s going to be an All-Star caliber player in the NBA, but another year of college will just give people more opportunity to pick apart his game.

The exact opposite could be true for Thomas.

Deshaun Thomas
Photo by Jim Davidson
Deshaun Thomas

It will be interesting to see what type of feedback Thomas gets from NBA people after his offensive explosion over the last month. While he was always projected as a future NBA prospect, Thomas did not really flash onto the radar for the 2012 draft before his performance in the NCAA Tournament.

With 89 points in the first four games, Thomas was starting to create a buzz before his 3-14 showing against Kansas in the Final Four. If Thomas had played well against the Jayhawks, and helped the Buckeyes to the championship game, he might very well have played himself into the NBA lottery.

After all, it’s a league that seems to value potential over consistency.

The potential is obviously there for Thomas, who was once called the next LeBron James in middle school, but this is a kid who could be a superstar with another year of college basketball experience.

After barely getting to play as a freshman last season, Thomas has come a long way in very little amount of time. He is really just starting to tap into that potential, and is only now learning to be a team player for the first time in his life.

Imagine what his game could look like a year from now, especially if he is the focal point of Ohio State’s offense next season. It’s easy to dismiss how much Sullinger’s presence on the court helped Thomas get some of the looks he did this year, but the kid is a natural scorer and a truly gifted rebounder at the offensive end.

He is still learning how to play at the defensive end, but that’s what college is about: learning. Everyone in the NBA has talent, but the guys who work at it are the ones who become great.

Thomas has that kind of potential.

He certainly doesn’t have LeBron’s athleticism (not even close), but Thomas is a 6-7 wing who can drain shots from behind the arc and also score at will around the basket. He has tremendous touch, and an uncanny ability to locate the ball in the air off missed shots—even his own.

It would be incredible to watch him take his game to the next level as a junior at Ohio State next season, but only Deshaun can decide what is right for Deshaun.

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