Editor’s Note: Written by Buckeye Empire contributor Ron Hamp
Is he too slow? Is he able to control his weight? Is he able to play against elite competition? Can he jump? These are questions that former Buckeye Jared Sullinger has had to face since picking up a basketball. This past season Sullinger had a stellar season and led the Bucks to a Final Four birth. But now there’s another question that needs answered – will his back hold up?
This week Sully was red-flagged by multiple NBA team doctors after an examination at the Chicago combine showed it still isn’t 100%. Some went as far as to say it could shorten his NBA career, causing many teams to drop the projected lottery pick to the bottom, or out of, the first round on their big board.
Sullinger missed two games in 2011-12 for Ohio State because of his back, the only two games he missed in his Buckeye career.
His draft stock began to fall as a sophomore, with or without the health issues, although his numbers were nearly identical compared to his freshman season. Regardless, the critics grew by the hundreds. Despite losing weight, Sullinger’s conditioning and lack of athleticism became a topic of discussion. He may not display the physique of Hercules or the athleticism of Blake Griffin, but Jared Sullinger the basketball player is damn good. Basketball IQ, skill and the will to win is something that cannot be taught. Sully will face critics his entire professional career. That’s not new for him. But what about the back?
This is actually where the lack of athleticism may help to lessen the blow of any lingering back issues. We’ve all seen the decline of Tracy McGrady’s NBA career, mainly from back spasms that all but completely sidelined him for two-plus years, but McGrady’s M.O. was 100% athleticism and explosiveness. Sully and his wide frame play much closer to the ground, with his success being more predicated on position, strength and the ability to create space with that big butt of his. Is the back an issue? Certainly could be. Enough to drop him out of the lottery in the 1012 NBA Draft? We’ll see. Either way, this little game isn’t new to Jared.
Quieting the critics is something Sullinger has been doing for some time. Coming out of Columbus Northland many thought that he dominated a watered down City League division by playing against players that were less talented and lacked size. Winning the Co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game should have put those thoughts to bed, but it didn’t. Before even stepping on campus at Ohio State the critics were still stating that Sullinger would have trouble on the next level. He responded by winning the Wayman Tisdale NCAA Freshman of the Year award, was voted to the First Team All-American team – and yet his draft stock was – dropping? As a sophomore he was once again named an All-American and led the Buckeyes to the Final Four, yet it hasn’t been enough.
He may not possess the elite athleticism that NBA General Managers salivate over, but those are the same qualities GM’s focus solely on that often find them in the unemployment line. I’m not saying Sullinger will be the next Wes Unseld, but he will have a place in the NBA. An All-Star? Maybe. An MVP? Probably not. But with his skill, determination and basketball IQ Sullinger will be more than okay – if his back holds up.
According to Satch Sullinger, Jared’s father, in speaking with ESPN.com this week, “He had a bulging area that was due to his hamstring and quads being so tight. It pulled on his hip flexor and he’s been taking care of it to loosen it. You can call it a red flag if you want. But it’s tight hamstring and tight quads. He’s been to doctors, he’s doing yoga and (receiving) deep tissue massage. The flexibility is helping take the pressure off the area.”
Alright, so maybe it does sound like a problem? Not in the eyes of Ohio State head coach Thad Matta, who spoke with ESPN’s Andy Katz earlier this week.
“Jared is fine. He’s moving better than I’ve ever seen him move.”
So why the red flag? Obviously there’s something to it, and it’s well within the rights of each NBA franchise to do their homework and protect whatever investment they’re about to make. Understood. But a small part of me thinks this red flag deal is an excuse for people to pass Sully up because they simply don’t yet believe in his potential or worth.
June 28TH is a special day for Jared Sullinger and some team will be lucky to have a person and player of Sullinger’s caliber. Critics will continue to be critics and Jared will be Jared. He’s been doubted his entire career, and responded every single time. Why change now?