Mom and pops in this case are Ronda and Alfonso "Benji" Burke, parents of Michigan's standout freshman point guard Trey Burke. The elder Burkes have been close to Sullinger for years. Benji was Sullinger's AAU coach, while Ronda played the role of Sullinger's mother when he was away from home. The OSU sophomore was also a high school teammate of Trey at Columbus Northland along with fellow Buckeye J.D. Weatherspoon.
"They're family regardless of the color jersey or the rivalry between the schools," Sullinger said of the Burkes. "Growing up that was basically my second family."
Sullinger and the Buckeyes will look to remain unbeaten at home when Burke's Wolverines come calling. Ohio State (18-3) and Michigan (16-5) enter the game with identical 6-2 Big Ten marks, tied with Michigan State for tops in the conference. The Wolverines' rise to the top is thanks in large part to the play of Burke, Mr. Basketball in Ohio last season. The 5-11, 180-pound Columbus Northland product is averaging 14.1 points, 5.0 assists, 3.7 rebounds and boasts an 1.9 assists-to-turnover ratio, sixth best in the Big Ten.
Burke's success has not surprised Sullinger. The two have been close for most of their lives and Sullinger credited Burke for helping him become a better basketball player. Sullinger spoke of heavily-contested games between the two, sometimes even in the winter after shoveling snow and almost every time ending in a fight.
"Trey and I go back a long way," Sullinger said. "He really helped me out in my development at an early age."
Burke was not recruited by Ohio State, as head coach Thad Matta already had point guard Shannon Scott in the 2011 recruiting class. Sullinger and Weatherspoon both expect Burke to play his best in hopes of impressing in front of his hometown crowd.
And they'll do the same against their former teammate.
"There will be some feelings (Sunday) of course, but at the same time we're going to give each other our best game," Weatherspoon said. "I feel like if we don't give him our best shot, that's disrespectful. I feel like we're all going to play against each other really hard."
Added Sullinger: "I think Trey's going to try to step up his game. One, he's from Columbus, Ohio. Two, the game is going to be in Columbus, Ohio. I can see Trey (trying to make) a big impression on the crowd and show everybody that he's putting Columbus on the map. I wouldn't be surprised if Trey comes out and has a big game."
Michigan will come to Columbus battle tested. The Wolverines are a pedestrian 2-4 away from the Crisler Center but is coming off a road win at Purdue on Jan. 24. U-M also has wins vs. Memphis (at the Maui Invitational) and at home against Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Michigan (16-5, 6-2) at Ohio State (18-3, 6-2)
Jan. 29, 2012 - 1 p.m. ET
Value City Arena; Columbus, Ohio