Thad Matta didn’t even need to hear the first question of his press conference Thursday afternoon before he proceeded to answer. He knew the topic of conversation would immediately be about star sophomore big man Jared Sullinger.
“Jared is feeling better, I’ll just address it,” Matta said.
Though Matta had an update on how Sullinger is feeling while dealing with back spasms, Ohio State’s head coach didn’t know if the star big man would be ready for the Buckeyes bout with No. 13 Kansas in Lawrence Saturday.
“We still don’t know (if he’ll play at Kansas),” he said. “He’s doing more every day, but quite honestly I don’t know if we’ll know until Saturday whether he’s going to play or not. It’s amazing how much better he’s moving and all those things, so we’ve got two more days to look at it, but we don’t know for sure what he’s going to do to.”
News broke Friday evening that Sullinger would miss Ohio State’s game against Texas-Pan American the following morning. Sullinger had an MRI that revealed the sophomore had an aggravated disc.
The Buckeyes won the game 64-35 to improve their record to 8-0, all while giving Sullinger over a week to prepare for the major non-conference bout with the Jayhawks.
Sullinger’s teammates joked that he is a tough individual to gauge when asked if they thought he’d play, but they’re still unsure if they’ll have his services come tipoff Saturday.
“Jared looks kind of tough, but he’s a big teddy bear,” sophomore point guard Aaron Craft said. “He is looking a lot better. He was walking around really gingerly about four or five days ago, but now he’s looking a lot better walking. He’s got the bounce back in his step.”
Sullinger has done limited basketball activity during the week but hasn’t participated fully in practice. Instead, he’s been relaxing at home with his roommate Evan Ravenel, who will get the start at center if Sullinger is unable to play.
The Kansas game has been circled for weeks, not only because of the prowess of the Jayhawks but also because it is Ohio State’s first road game of the season. Matta undoubtedly would love to get the win on the road while continuing the Buckeyes fast start, but he said Sullinger’s health is the priority.
“I think it’s more of just a feel,” Matta said of Sullinger’s injury. “I told him and I told (his father) Satch, I’m thinking big picture here, much more than Saturday’s game. I want to make sure he is as good as he can possibly be and no further risk of anything else going on.”
Matta has prepared two separate game plans for Kansas depending on whether Sullinger will play, but Craft said the team has been focusing on their individual roles.
Playing with Sullinger back in AAU, Craft said he wouldn’t be surprised if Sullinger woke up Saturday morning and played the best game of the year.
“Playing in AAU with him, he would do the same thing,” Craft said. “He would go throughout the weekend and maybe not feel the greatest and come out and have 40 points and 20 rebounds. It’s hard to get a read on a guy like Jared. He’s an interesting individual.”
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