Sullinger Explains Funk
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It is no secret Jared Sullinger has not looked like himself over the past few weeks, but Ohio State’s star sophomore said Tuesday it has actually been a lot longer than that.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Sullinger, who is coming off back-to-back single-digit scoring performances, said he had a private talk Monday with head coach Thad Matta and assistant coach Jeff Boals.
Boals, who has worked closely with Sullinger during his two seasons in Columbus, told him that he has not been the same player since OSU’s Big Ten opener against Northwestern back in December.
“We talked a lot yesterday about how I played. He said I haven’t been the same,” Sullinger admitted.
“I wasn’t as physical. I’m just trying not to foul instead of playing defense. On the offensive end I’m not as physical as I used to be with posting up because I’m scared about what the refs are going to call. He said I played timid.”
He and Boals actually sat down and watched the first Northwestern game. Then they watched Sunday’s Wisconsin game, a game in which Sullinger scored only eight points and grabbed six rebounds in 33 minutes.
“We saw the two different type of players and that really helps me understand what I need to do for this basketball team,” Sullinger said.
Matta told him that this team will go as he goes. He said that he needs to be more engaged, playing with more energy and showing more emotion so that his teammates can feed off the positive energy.
“I think it’s strictly mental. I just need to get my mind back on just playing basketball,” Sullinger said on the eve of Ohio State’s second-to-last game of the regular season.
“I just need to play my game. I think that’s when I’m best, when I’m just focused on the team and playing my game.”
Sullinger’s game has always started with his rebounding. He has not had a double-digit rebounding night since Ohio State’s 58-48 loss to Michigan State back on Feb. 11.
Matta said part of that has been the rebounding efforts of guys like Deshaun Thomas, Lenzelle Smith and William Buford, but Sullinger openly admitted that has not been mentally tuned in the way he needs to be, and a lot of has to do with the way games are being called.
“I think it’s just me letting the refs get to me, or just letting everything on the outside get to me or let it creep in,” Sullinger acknowledged.
“Focusing on other stuff besides this basketball team and what this team needs me to do for us to win basketball games.”
A preseason candidate for National Player of the Year, Sullinger said his decision about whether to leave Ohio State after this season is not one of the outside factors clouding his focus.
“Right now I don’t care about anything that happens after April,” he said, but also admitted that Twitter and the media have affected his ability focus on this season and stay in the moment as his team competes for another Big Ten championship.
“Some of the stuff ya’ll say. I’ve probably been being dogged by a lot of people,” he said.
“People are saying I’m not as good as I used to be, but at the end of the day it’s not about what they think. It’s about how can we win basketball games. If that’s me having eight points and two rebounds or me having 20 points and 12 rebounds, it’s all about winning. I could care less what people think.”
His dad, James “Satch” Sullinger, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that losing some tough games this year has worn on Jared, and he agreed that it has not been easy to battle through a season with twice as many losses already as the Buckeyes had a year ago when Jared was a freshman.
“It’s very tough,” Sullinger said.
“I am not used to losing. I don't accept losing. It’s not part of my culture and it is not a part of my family.”
Sullinger said his dad told him all players go through rough patches, but the great ones find a way to push through and come out better on the other side. If Jared is going to do that, he will have to put all the distractions aside and get back to playing the kind of basketball he played in 2011.
“I just realized that as long as I keep playing basketball I should be fine,” he said.
“Not worrying about outside forces and just worrying about playing the game and trying to win a basketball game.”
Both Matta and Sullinger agreed he had one of his best practices Monday, “I made a lot of shots,” he said.
Now he will need to do it on Wednesday if the Buckeyes are going to get back in any kind of a groove before the start of the postseason.
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