Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What to Make of Jared Sullinger

Before he was a two time All-American, Jared Sullinger was a five star recruit with a rating of 100 by ESPN and depending on which scouting group you subscribe to, fell anywhere from five to two among all high school seniors.  He won the Naismith Prep Player of the Year and took his talents to Columbus.    

And now, after averaging over 17 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game over the course of two years at Ohio State, Sullinger will be on the outside looking in at the NBA Draft.  This doesn’t mean he won’t be drafted; Sullinger will likely still fall somewhere in the first round, but only anticipated lottery picks get a draft day invitation. 

The cause for this exclusion is the recent report that Sullinger has the proverbial “red flag” due to health issues.  Docs say it’s a back issues.  Sullinger’s father claims his son is simply suffering from tight hamstrings and quads.  Some see the medical issues as a side effect of a weight problem while others are skeptical of the 6’9” 265 pound power forward for a perceived lack of athleticism.  Regardless of the explanation, Sullinger’s stock is going Charlie Sheen on this year’s draft.  

But will executives regret this five years down the road?  Will he even be in the league five years down the road?
Sullinger has been excelling on the hardwood his
entire life.  
In response to the first question, I hope the answer is yes.  After a promising freshman year that would have certainly led to a top-15 selection (unless, of course, if the health issues came up at last year’s workouts), Sullinger elected to forgo the draft to return to Ohio State for his sophomore season. 

I support any player who decides to head back to school for another year rather than jump for the NBA, but not exactly for the reasons that most would think.  While it is true that Sullinger doubled his college education, he is still no more than halfway to a degree and much like predetermined one-and-done talents, you have to wonder how much of the year Sullinger spent in the classroom and fulfilling his educational responsibilities.  To my knowledge, he has not accelerated his learning to get a degree a la Kyrie Irving.  Still, any additional exposure to a college learning environment is a good thing.  If it’s not because of an education, at least Sullinger is developing time-management skills and something resembling a structured life. 

Yet, even with the entire education element aside, there is still something tangibly special about this type of decision. 

For one, it takes an honest, dedicated person to recognize that they are not ready for the professional level despite the hundreds of people who tell them otherwise.  This may have been Sullinger’s rationale or maybe he just isn’t one to leave objectives unfulfilled.  Thad Matta’s guys were as talented as any this season and Sullinger knew he was the workhorse that could carry them to the Final Four.  Or perhaps Sullinger, even with millions of dollars awaiting him on draft day, understood that there is a big difference between being the big man on campus at one of the nation’s most pressure pack and illustrious programs and being relegated to the punching bag of a NBA roster – a fate that awaits all rookies no matter the magnitude of their on-court contribution.  Why rush through a good thing?  He has twenty years to make his mark on the Association but only a couple in college.    

When I hear these types of things, I picture someone who is serious about improvement, humbled and excited by big moments and opportunities, honest about where he stacks up, and determined to succeed. 

Which brings me back to the injury.  If Sullinger is actually hampered by some type of medical situation, I hope that his decision to return to OSU parallels his approach to handling the adversity that he will inevitably face on day one of his NBA career. 
Although it was for different reasons, I'll bet there's
one or two executives out there who wish they
didn't pass on this college star.  
The fact is, the guy can ball and if you look simply at his on-court performance throughout his entire life, there is no doubt as to his talents.  Scouts and executives too often overlook trivial things like, you know, how good prospects are at basketball, for other characteristics like size, vertical, and perceived athleticism.  Sullinger is not only a beast in the post, but has improved his shooting as well.  While his points/game numbers suffered a slight decrease from his freshman to sophomore seasons, his raised his free throw percentage by nearly seven points up to 77%.      

Does Sullinger have a medical problem?  Is his weight an issue?  Only if Sullinger allows them to be.  When was the last time a player enter the NBA at the perfect weight?  Everybody comes in too heavy or too light.  And, in reality, everybody comes in talented.  Sure, for some that might be higher, but if the first round busts and second round triumphs have proven anything, it’s that nothing is even close to certain.  

All things being equal in terms of injury and other aspects outside of ones control, all draft picks can develop a successful career with the right approach.  It looks to me like Jared Sullinger has it.  You just hope he doesn’t turn into the latest big man to come from OSU.


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