Sullinger At Peace with NBA Decision
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It is one of the most iconic moments in all of sports history.
Photo by Jim Davidson
With 5.2 seconds left on the clock, Bulls legend Michael Jordan put an exclamation point on his Hall of Fame career with an unforgettable 20-foot pull-up jump shot over Jazz guard Bryon Russell to win the 1998 NBA Finals.
Jared Sullinger was only six years old at the time, but he knew one day he wanted to be on that stage. Now he will get his chance.
“I sat down with my family and we came up with decisions, and I think it is best for me to try and go at it at the next level,” Sullinger said at a press conference to announce his decision.
“That’s everybody’s dream when you’re watching Michael Jordan hit that shot against the Utah Jazz, or the flu game. You’re thinking, ‘I want to be in a game like that.’”
Little Jared was only seven years old when his dad, Satch, started to see the signs he might one day have the intangibles it takes to be a great basketball player; possibly even the kind of kid who could make it all the way to the biggest stage in the game.
“I taught him his footwork with the rest of the boys at two or three at the foot of the bed,” said Satch Sullinger, who would become Jared’s high school coach at Columbus Northland.
“I watched him play outside, and he learned footwork before he developed any bad habits. I watched him handle the ball, and I knew this was a possibility.”
Satch, whose full name is James Sullinger Sr., wasn’t completely convinced Jared had what it takes to become a truly elite basketball player until middle school. That’s when he watched his pudgy little kid pull down 25 rebounds in a middle school game.
His two older brothers, James (J.J.) Sullinger Jr. and Julian (Jules) Sullinger, never took it easy on Jared. His dad even made him come off the bench as a freshman in high school, but it made him a better player.
By the time he was a junior at Northland, Jared Sullinger was one of the most coveted high school basketball players in the country.
“When I realized I had a shot was going into my junior year of high school when I was getting all this publicity,” he said Wednesday.
“Realizing I have a talent and that I have to pursue that talent and make it a hobby, or better yet, make it a job.”
Sullinger signed with Ohio State, where his older brother J.J. had played under Thad Matta, and last season he became the National Freshman of the Year in college basketball while helping the Buckeyes to the Sweet 16.
He was projected a as a lottery pick in the NBA Draft after just one year at Ohio State, but the timing wasn’t right, said Satch Sullinger.
“I watched him grow and mature. The skill set has always been there, but last year at this time I wasn’t comfortable with the possible option of him going to the NBA,” Jared’s dad said.
“It was still his choice, but as a parent, I wasn’t comfortable.”
Jared wasn’t comfortable either, not with his team falling short of expectations—failing to get past the Sweet 16 for the second-straight season. That team was one of the favorites to win it all, and Sullinger didn’t like the feeling in the locker room after the loss to Kentucky.
He vowed to return for his sophomore season at Ohio State, to help Matta get back to the Final Four and prove that college can be more than just a factory for producing NBA players after one year.
Sullinger accomplished both this season, while earning first-team All-American honors despite battling back and foot injuries throughout much of the season. He said those injuries did not play an important role in his decision, but he felt at peace about leaving this time around.
“In reality, you’d love to play four years at a university that has done so much for you,” Sullinger said.
“Being a hometown kid, and trying to build a legacy at your hometown school, you would want to play four years. But stock doesn’t really mean too much to me at this point, I just want to do what’s best for my situation.”
Some will argue that Sullinger still needed another year at the college level to refine his game, especially after struggling against Kansas in the NCAA semifinal game, but even Matta seemed to be at peace with the timing.
“I think for him, the timing is definitely right,” Matta said.
“The best attribute Jared has is that he’s a winner. He just wins. I knew since Jared got here that this was probably going to be the end of the road.”
For Sullinger, it’s only the beginning. He’s chasing his dream.
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