Jared Sullinger turned his back on the NBA – and the fortune that comes with that lifestyle – after one All-American season at Ohio State. After another season that lent to similar prowess on the floor, Sullinger couldn’t put off his professional future any longer.
After taking the last three days to discuss his options with his family and OSU coach Thad Matta, Sullinger announced his intentions to leave college and enter the NBA Draft in a press conference at Value City Arena Wednesday afternoon.
“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. “I had a talk with Coach Matta and he pretty much said to do what was best for me, and I thought the best decision was to go to the NBA.”
After spurning what was projected to be top-five NBA Draft selection after his All-America freshman season, Sullinger had another productive season before becoming a two-time AP All-American, the first player to achieve that honor since North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough did it in 2009.
Sullinger, a 6-9, 265-pound big man, averaged 17.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in the 2011-12 season while helping the Buckeyes reach their first Final Four appearance since 2007. In his two years with the program, Ohio State won 65 games and won two regular season Big Ten championships.
“This isn’t only about me,” Sullinger said. “Without my teammates, the coaching staff and this university, none of this would be possible. All that plays into it as a factor. My teammates and my coaches, we really put in the hard work in building a legacy here.”
Sullinger said he’s completely at peace with the decision he made – much like he did a year ago when opting to return – but he said the hardest part about moving on to the next level would be leaving his family behind.
A native of Columbus, Sullinger said it was a dream since he was a kid to bring the hometown Buckeyes a national championship. Though Sullinger wasn’t successful in securing college basketball’s ultimate prize, he did say that reaching the Final Four was enough for him to feel comfortable taking the next step in his career.
“This decision kind of came about with us getting to the Final Four,” Sullinger said. “Going to the Final Four with a team that many people said wasn’t good enough – that was a tremendous feeling.”
Projected by NBADraft.net to go No. 9 overall in this year’s draft, Sullinger’s decision to return to Ohio State for his sophomore season caused him to take a minor hit in his perceived value. That, of course, is subject to change once he partakes in workouts for NBA teams in the time leading draft on June 28.
Sullinger lost 25 pounds during the off-season but admitted he had to gain five back because he didn’t feel strong enough in the paint at times. Now at 269 pounds, Sullinger said he’d shape his body in any way the NBA teams feel is appropriate.
“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.”
A two-time first-team All-American, Sullinger compared his game to that of Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love because he has a similar body-type and skill-set as the NBA All-Star.
“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.
“Not only did he make us a better program and a better team, the list of accomplishments over the span he’s been here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. One thing he did that we probably won’t get to see until next year is how much better he made the other guys.”
Deshaun Thomas still pondering decision
Ohio State fans felt fortunate that Thomas wasn’t a part of the press conference, but that wasn’t necessarily because a decision to return to Columbus has been made.
Thomas, one of the most electrifying players in the NCAA Tournament this year, scored more points than any other player in the Big Dance heading into the Final Four.
Known for his ability to score in bunches and grab offensive rebounds, Thomas’ game is far from complete. But with the NBA’s reputation of drafting on potential, Thomas could be an attractive selection if he decides to move on to the next level.
Thomas, however, hasn’t reached out to Sullinger about his potential decision to jump to the NBA after his sophomore season. Matta has yet to talk to Thomas about what’s best for him, but he’s looking into it for him.
“I am in the process right now of just trying to get as much information I can for him in terms of talking with teams,” Matta said. “I want to give him all the information so he can make the best decision he possibly can.”
Thomas can work out for NBA prospects after April 10 as long as he pays his own way. He must come to a decision by April 29.
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