Jared Sullinger’s freshman season at Ohio State had ended and he was a projected top-five pick in the NBA draft. With the vast riches that come with the NBA lifestyle hanging in the balance, Sullinger didn’t forget he had promised Thad Matta that he would be a Buckeye for at least two seasons.
He knew what he was risking by returning to Ohio State, but he came back anyway.
The decision seemed to pay off for Sullinger, who accomplished everything he set out to before the commencement of his collegiate career. Sullinger was named a first-team All-American for the second consecutive year before leading the Buckeyes to the Final Four.
But with the NBA draft now two days away it looks as if Sullinger’s choice to come back to Ohio State for his sophomore season could cost him financially, regardless of his on-the-court success in his sophomore season.
Many of the online mock drafts have Sullinger falling to the late first round and out of the lottery (the top 14 picks), a far cry from the top-five selection many figured he would have been had he decided to go pro after his freshman season.
“He stayed because that’s what he needed to do,” his father, Satch Sullinger, told BSB. “If we could (go back and decide whether to) stay again, yes, we would stay again because mentally he wasn’t ready for the NBA.”
Sullinger’s two-year career at Ohio State made for the latest chapter in the advancement of Matta’s program. Having averaged 17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game during his career, Sullinger helped lead the Buckeyes to consecutive Big Ten regular-season championships before the latest deep NCAA Tournament run.
But despite his continued dominance on the floor as a sophomore, questions regarding a lack of explosion lingered after he suffered from back spasms following OSU’s blowout win over Duke in late November that caused him to miss two games.
Concerns about back issues became a hot-button issue last week after ESPN.com reported that doctors that examined the big man marked him as a red flag for “back issues that could shorten his NBA career.”
Those close to Sullinger, led by his father, maintain the problem isn’t severe enough to hinder his chances at a long and productive professional career. When Sullinger missed time last season, Matta said he had an aggravated disk that was caused by tight muscles around it.
Matta, who has undergone major back surgery himself, said the issue was something that could be alleviated by stretching and proper fitness.
Satch Sullinger told BSB that remains true despite reports that surfaced that his son’s back could become a problem for him in the future.
“If anybody is going to read this, they need to understand how important stretching is,” Satch Sullinger said. “His quads and his hamstrings were so tight that it was pulling on his flexor, which in turn pulled on that vertebra. Now that he is stretching and they’re giving him deep tissue messages and loosening it all up, all of that is lightening up.
“It was a signal. The bottom line is an MRI should bring up concerns. After you’ve dealt with the concerns, you can’t change the MRI. The specialists said that if he plays 10-to-12 years of 82 games a year, his MRI should read the same as long as he stays stretched and keeps his weight under control. Those are things he has total control over. Its not like he has no control over the condition of his back. He has total control over it.”
Any concerns about health – whether the potential injury concerns are severe or not – could be enough of a concern to make an NBA team think twice before drafting him in one of the top positions. Sullinger has seen his stock decline dramatically as of late as a result.
Now Sullinger finds himself in a situation nobody predicted he’d be in the days leading into the NBA draft – an underdog.
“Not really,” Sullinger responded when asked if his seemingly lower stock is causing him to feel pressure. “I mean, no offense, but most of you guys (in the media) never played basketball, so what can they say? It is what it is. I support it because from day one I’ve been the underdog. It’s life. So I like it.”
“I could care less. Like I said, half of you all never played basketball a day in your life, maybe in open gym around the rec or something, but never organized basketball, so I mean it is what it is. If I’m slipping, I’m slipping. That’s fine with me.”
Sullinger could still remain a top-10 pick, especially since he spent the early portions of the week working out with Detroit Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars. Satch Sullinger said Dumars indicated he wouldn’t allow the back concerns to effect the Pistons’ decision if they find Sullinger is the best player for their team at the No. 9 pick.
Regardless of where Sullinger is eventually picked, Satch Sullinger is confident in his son’s potential. Sullinger was not invited to attend the NBA draft in New Jersey’s Prudential Center.
“The only reason why Jared isn’t one of the top 10 is because of the red flag and what they’re claiming about his back,” Satch Sullinger said. “It has nothing to do with his inability to play or skill.
“They’re going to get one of the top-five players in this year’s draft. Period. He has done it over and over and over again. The bottom line is they’re going to get a basketball player. They might not get an athlete, but they’re going to get a basketball player.”
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