Thad Expects Sullinger for Kansas

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Last updated: 12/03/2011 6:08 PM

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Men's Basketball
‘Dr. Thad’ Expects Sullinger to Be Ready for Kansas
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State coach Thad Matta is not usually one to get involved in talking about his players’ injuries, but the one that sideline Jared Sullinger Saturday hit close to home; a little too close.

Jared Sullinger greets the crowd as he comes onto the floor.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jared Sullinger

“Fortunately, or unfortunately I should say, I probably know a little bit too much about this stuff,” Matta said after Ohio State’s 64-35 win over the University of Texas-Pan American at Value City Arena.

“Things just have to calm down. We’ll take a look at him Monday or Tuesday, whenever it is and just assess.”

Sullinger, the reigning National Freshman of the Year in college basketball, strained his back during Ohio State’s 85-63 win over Duke this past Tuesday. He did not have an MRI on his back until Friday afternoon, but Matta suspected earlier in the week that his star sophomore would likely not be available against the Broncs on Saturday afternoon.

“To be honest with you, probably Wednesday,” he said.

“We were going to see how it felt, but I wanted to give this some time to rest, knowing we had another week in between there.”

The MRI on Sullinger revealed an aggravated disk in his back, which can be a scary thing for a 6-8, 265-pound athlete like Sullinger. Especially for a guy who spends most of his time banging around in the paint.

Considering Matta’s history with back injuries—his own and that of star players like William Buford and most notably Evan Turner—there was bound to be some fear in his gut when he heard the results of the MRI.

Or was there?

Jared Sullinger offers encouragement and advice to his teammates from the bench during the Texas-Pan American game.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jared Sulinger

“No, because, with all the ones I’ve had, like the one I popped in May, I knew there was pain going down my leg and he didn’t have any of that,” Matta said.

“So that was a good sign that it wasn’t hitting the spinal cord, the nervous system.”

The Buckeyes will have a week off for finals before they make the trip to Lawrence next Saturday for another big-time nonconference matchup with No. 14-ranked Kansas. The Jayhawks have lost two games this season—Kentucky and Duke—but the Buckeyes know they will need to be at full strength if they are going to remain undefeated.

Matta expects to have Sullinger back on the court after more than a week of rest.

“Yeah, that’s kind of my mindset in this thing,” he said.

“He’s feeling better every day. The muscle’s relaxing more every day, so that’s a great sign for us. We’ll reevaluate him and see where he is.”

Appearing on 10TV’s Wall to Wall Sports, Sullinger’s dad, James ‘Satch” Sullinger, indicated that the injury somehow might be related to plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation in the sole of the foot.

Matta said he wasn’t aware of anything related to Sullinger’s feet, but he knows all too well about back issues.

“No, I don’t think so. I didn’t hear that yesterday or today,” he responded.

“I don’t know if anyone in here has had back issues, it can happen (at any moment). I swear a couple years ago I sneezed and I was done.”

The 44-year old Matta won his 300th game as a head coach Saturday against UTPA, but he has also dealt with severe back spasms for the last 20 years. He has been in and out of hospitals, and has become somewhat of an expert on the spinal cord, and back injuries in general.

“As I told (trainer Vince O’Brien), you can throw me out of the training room at any time, but any time we’ve had issues with the back I sit in there and I listen,” Matta said.

“I feel at that point as though I’m ‘Dr. Thad’ because of all the operating rooms I’ve been in and recovery rooms I’ve been in.”

Matta said he knew pretty quickly that Sullinger wasn’t dealing with a major injury after watching some of the tests they were performing on him during the week.

“Just as they were going through the testing, I was going, ‘that’s good, that’s good.’ Saying that from my own experience of knowing that nothing was out of line from the standpoint of I know you cant do that test if there’s a problem,” he said.

“The disk is like a jelly donut, comes out and hits the spinal cord, which causes excruciating pain. That was the great thing, I kept saying, ‘you have no excruciating pain, you’re in good shape.’ So we’re probably lucky in that regard.”

Matta also knew from looking at the MRI results that Sullinger’s injury was nothing compared to what he has been dealing with for the past two decades.

“I told him as I looked at it, ‘that looks awesome compared to what mine looks like. You can actually see the white in between the vertebrae, where mine are all black in there,’” he said with a smile.

“There’s nothing there. I could go through a complete description of the spinal cord if we’d like to do that, but his was good.”

Even with that diagnosis, ‘Dr. Thad’ knows first-hand that back injuries are nothing to mess around with. That is why they held Sullinger out of the game Saturday, even though he seemed to be moving around fine on the court in his long-sleeve T-shirt and sweatpants.

“Today was a very precautionary measure,” Matta said after the game.

“I think once we get past this it will be over. I hope so. The big thing is, just through the therapy and the stretching, you can really strengthen that area and make it a non-issue.”

If Sullinger’s not on the court come next Saturday, it will quickly become a major issue for the Buckeyes.

Related Story - First Thoughts After a Win over Texas-Pan American

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