Jared Sullinger was ESPN’s number two ranked recruit in the country, a first-team All-American two years in a row at Ohio State, and ultimately became an NBA 1st round pick in 2012 to the Boston Celtics. These days the 28-year-old is living in Columbus, Ohio, with his two twins, and once he has them situated for the day, he goes to work out at 11atheltics.
He looks back fondly on his remarkable college career that spanned from 2010-12, having averages of 17.3 points, 9.7 rebounds per game, and appearances to the Sweet 16 and Final Four.
“Ohio State gave me the opportunity to showcase my talents and be able to be me as soon as I walked through the door,” Sullinger told me in a phone interview.
Going to Ohio State was a no-brainer for Sullinger; his brother J.J. played for the Buckeyes for three seasons from 2003-06. Sullinger says that his brother told him on the court of his last game at Ohio State that if Thad Matta offers him a scholarship, he should go because there is no other coach like him.
“I trust my big brother,” he said. “He did so many things for me growing up. It was only right that I listen to him.”
After such a stellar career in those two seasons, he would be a 1st round pick and come into millions of dollars, but the decision to leave the university was still hard.
“That was the last pure form of basketball you could play,” he said. “When you get up to this level, everything gets kicked in. You never know if a team is going into a rebuild, you got draft picks they want to develop. There’s so many things that goes into this game of basketball when you get to the pro-level, so it flies under the radar how much you appreciate college basketball until you’re out of it.”
On June 28th, 2012, he was selected 21st overall by the Boston Celtics. The concerns over his back injury sustained in college caused him to slide in the draft.
“I was literally playing on one leg at times,” he said.
He would have back surgery while with the Celtics, and later in his career, when he played for the Raptors, he had two foot surgeries. However, even with the lingering injuries, he played well when he did suit up. On the Celtics as a 21-year-old in his second NBA season, he averaged 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. The following season he averaged 13.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
“I won’t say it came easy,” he said. “When you’re on the scouting report in the NBA, you’ve gotta be able to bring it every night, and there was times where I struggled just because the scouting report heated up.”
Before those two seasons, he was a rookie on a Celtics team with players like Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Paul Pierce.
“Guys like that they constantly just stayed in your ear about how you can get better, what you need to do, find a routine, how to become a pro, those guys just helped me develop some of my good habits that I have today.”
After his four years in Boston, he went on to play 11 games for the Raptors and spent time playing in the CBA in China. If he could look back at himself before the NBA Draft and coming out of college, he would give himself powerful advice.
“Don’t get lost in the moment,” he said. “Sometimes when you reach your dream, it’s like damn, and you get caught up in being in the dream, instead of its reality now. I think that’s what the problem was. I was just still caught up in the dream instead of waking up and realizing it was actually reality I need to get better, I need to do something to push me forward, to make more established in the NBA, and I think that was the biggest problem.”
At just 28-years-old he is younger than current NBA players in their primes, such as James Harden, Damian Lillard and Paul George.
Sullinger is not ready to call it a career and is looking to make an NBA comeback.
“I’m definitely trying to get back to the NBA,” he said. “I feel like I’ve still got a lot of basketball left, I can help a team, I feel like me being not the biggest guy but still strong enough to guard a five and be able to stretch the floor, I’m in better shape.”
The 6’9″ Sullinger still has the same agent he had years ago, David Falk, and is committed to going any route he has to take in his pathway back to the NBA, such as playing in the G-League, and as of today, he says he feels “amazing,” and this is the best he has ever felt health-wise.
“I’m just looking for somebody to give me an opportunity,” Sullinger said. “If I get the opportunity, I promise I will seize the moment at that moment.”