Sullinger Sheds Pounds, Ups His Game
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jared Sullinger needed a moment.
His entire freshman year of college had just flown by in the blink of an eye, as the Buckeyes were bounced from the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament by Kentucky.
Photo by Jim Davidson
It was earlier than most had expected for the No. 1 overall seed, and all anyone wanted to know now was whether Sullinger would be back for a second year. His mind was on something else entirely.
He was thinking about getting better.
“I knew what I had to work on and that was weight,” he said.
“Be a little bit more mobile. There were a lot of times if I was a little bit more mobile I could have gotten a rebound or I could have gotten a charge or something. It’s just little stuff like that which could change the game.”
It could have changed the outcome of Ohio State’s season, which ended in a 62-60 loss to the Wildcats at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Sullinger scored 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. Those are gaudy numbers for any college player, let alone a freshman, but they weren’t good enough for Sullinger. His team didn’t win, so nothing would have been.
“I've always said this about Jared: Jared wants to win,” OSU Head Coach Thad Matta said.
“Jared is a winner. I see him throughout the course of games analyzing situations and (thinking) ‘What do I have to do to help this team win?’”
Sullinger was good but not great against Kentucky center Josh Harrellson, who forced him to earn every one of his seven baskets and eight offensive rebounds. The 6-10, 275 senior was not intimidated by Sullinger, who had been one of the best interior players in the country as a freshman.
Harellson used his strength and size to take away Sullinger’s angles around the rim and made it tough for the youngster to capitalize on his usual putbacks inside. Some players would have obsessed over being outmuscled. They would have hit the weight room in an effort to make sure that never happened again.
Not Sullinger. He exercised a different part of his body.
“I wanted to get back to the type of motor I played with in high school,” he said.
“I used to dribble sometimes, I used to shoot the open jumper. It’s going to be like my freshman season but adding a little bit of what I did in high school.”
In order to do that, Sullinger knew was going to have to get more agile, which meant dropping some weight. The 6-8 forward played last season at North of 280 pounds. His first step was to speed up his metabolism.
Instead of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, Sullinger spaced out six smaller meals throughout the day. He watched his intake and spent the entire summer in the gym.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“It’s amazing to see the growth that he’s had from last year to this year. His ability to discipline himself and lose that weight has been awesome to see,” said point guard Aaron Craft, who played AAU basketball with Sullinger in high school.
“Jared worked really hard on his outside shot just being able to stretch the defenses out and make him not a one dimensional player.”
It is strange to think of him that way, because Sullinger was so dominant throughout his rookie season at Ohio State. He averaged over 17 points and 10 rebounds per game as a freshman while shooting over 54 percent from the floor, but nearly all of his baskets came from within six or seven feet around the hoop.
“We're hoping to be able to move him around a little bit more. Kind of more of a moving target if you will,” Matta said.
“The thing I told him in the off-season is 'You've got to be more mobile, you've got to be able to move,' and he wants to do that.”
It was slow to start, but Sullinger knew it would take work to see the kind of transformation he wanted. Eventually, the weight started to fall off for Sullinger after he announced his decision to return for another season—which Matta says was never really a decision at all.
A slimmer, more cut Sullinger showed up for the start of workouts this fall at 265 pounds, nearly 20 pounds lighter than his playing weight a year ago. He even surprised himself with his improved athleticism.
“I noticed it on the court when I would start making moves and getting to the lane,” he said.
“Being on the wing in open gym and getting to the lane for a dunk, I haven’t done that since 1917. I never did that before.”
He didn’t have to do any of that last year because the Buckeyes had plenty of scorers on the wing with guys like William Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty.
They should still have enough scoring on the back end with Buford back and guys like Deshaun Thomas and Jordan Sibert ready to step into the rotation, but moving Sullinger around could actually make him a more dangerous player—this season and whenever he decides to take his game to the next level.
“I think its actually going to help me because teams are going to be so sold on doubling me in the post,” Sullinger said.
“It’s going to be like how do you double him when he’s doing the pick and pop. It’s going to mess up some people’s defensive strategies.”
Especially when they get a look at Sullinger’s newfound mobility.
“He’s become a lot more difficult to guard,” said teammate and roommate Evan Ravenel, who has been defending Sullinger in practice since he got to Ohio State.
“At first you only had to worry about him on the block. Now you have to worry about him as a midrange shooter. His midrange game is on point now. He’s unbelievable. I’ve know Jared for two years and I know he could shoot the ball, but the way he shoots the ball now is so quick and fluid. You wouldn’t think he’s a big.”
He doesn’t exactly look like one anymore, certainly not as much as he did last year, but he hasn’t lost the backside that became so famous a year ago.
“No. He told me he's not losing that,” Matta said.
“No question about that. It's there to stay.”
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