Jared Sullinger left Ohio State early with thoughts of being a top ten pick dancing in his head. This touched off a whirlwind of events that made it clear to everyone that he wasn’t going to be a top ten pick. It began with knocks against his athleticism, moved onto concerns from doctors that back issues could mean a shortened NBA career, progressed to being told that he wouldn’t be invited to attend the draft in person and ended with being taken with the 21st pick by the Boston Celtics.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Boston isn’t a bad place to start off an NBA career. The Celtics obviously enjoy a healthy amount of basketball success and Sully will have a chance to work with some outstanding players. From the “I’d like a ring someday” aspect, it’s a better place to be than, say, Cleveland. From a playing time standpoint, It might not be ideal, but Sully has some work to do and the fact that there won’t be an overwhelming need for him to be “the man” is actually a good thing. That situation leads to busts and, let’s be honest, Sully has some bust potential. Sully playing when he has something to prove, however, could work in his favor.
Many, save Matta who said Sully had promised not to do so, thought he would leave prior to last year’s draft. At that time, he was projected to be a top five pick. Falling from top five to 21 is not only a bit of a dent to the ego, but also to the bank account. It meant that he would be watching the draft in Columbus and not in Newark. It also meant that he would be the target of posts like this from bloggers like me.
By “like me” I mean die-hard Buckeye fans who love Sullinger, yet harbor some annoyance towards him. He was prone to pouting at really bad times and seemed immature at points during the season. I’d muttered Sullinger’s name along with a number of expletives in combinations that I didn’t even know were possible. Yet, in spite of that, he still had game. He stepped it up at the end of the season and we began to see some of the Sullinger we had seen his Freshman year. The fact that the Buckeyes fell short with a cast of young players fed our desire to see Sully come back just one more time.
But really, that wasn’t the only reason many of us felt he should stick around a bit. It didn’t take a draft guru to see that Sully wasn’t at the top of his game. Could the back issues that kept him out early have been a problem all season? Was that the reason that he dropped off from a stellar Freshman year? It can be a pretty overwhelming mental obstacle if you think your back is going to give out at the drop of a hat. It would make it a bit tougher to talk yourself into going all out and place yourself in a position where you could sustain an injury that takes away your NBA dream.
That’s the thing, though, he didn’t want to sustain an injury that takes away his NBA dream. That alone can signal to a player that leaving is a good idea. If the back issues crippled him during a Junior season at OSU, his stock would fall further. He might have dropped to the 2nd round. Heck, he might have dropped himself to the NBADL or some Foreign league. This was a pretty deep draft, though, with the host of Wildcats and Tarheels eating up several spots on their own. Could even a slightly better Junior season, or one that ended with him cutting down the nets after an NCAA Championship, have been the difference between 21 and 5?
Sullinger can be second guessed for days, weeks, even years. The Sullinger family is a good one, though, and would not lead Jared astray. I’m sure they felt this was the best move, for whatever reason, and who are we to really chime in on the biggest decision of the young man’s life?
Hopefully, Sullinger has a career of pleasant surprises and not a career full of “what if” moments. As Buckeye fans, we know a bit about those (I’m lookin’ at you, Greg Oden) and I know we are all cheering for Sully. But a drop from sure bet to huge question mark means the discussions will be there about his decision.
Best of luck to Jared in Boston.