Commentary: Sullinger needs to conduct himself like a winner at all times
Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Updated: Thursday, June 28, 2012 13:06
With the 2012 NBA Draft just hours away, some have questioned the ability, size and health of former Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger, and it remains to be seen where he’ll land in the draft.
After watching a couple unfortunate on-court incidents involving Sullinger this past season, as well as his interactions with the media both during the NCAA Tournament and during pre-draft workouts with NBA teams, my biggest concern for Sullinger is his maturity.
Sullinger’s a winner, both on and off the court, but he’s got a bit of work to do before the rest of the world sees that.
Based on wins and personal accolades, Sullinger is everything you’d expect from a player that opted to forego his final two seasons of collegiate eligibility. He received Associated Press First-Team All-American honors and helped lead the Buckeyes to 65 victories during his two seasons at OSU.
Of course, Sullinger played a massive role in the Buckeyes’ run to the Final Four in New Orleans, and was named the NCAA Tournament East Region’s Most Outstanding Player for his work in postseason games against Loyola (MD), Gonzaga, Cincinnati and Syracuse.
After the 77-70 win against Syracuse at TD Garden in Boston to send OSU to the Final Four, Sullinger couldn’t keep a cool head, though, and, through a toothy grin, continued a habit of sparring with the media.
“I appreciated everyone that doubted us,” Sullinger said after the win. “I want to thank you all because, through the adversity, we constantly pushed through that. I mean, we came from nothing, according to you all, to something.”
No one in the OSU media troupe had it out for Sullinger, or the team in general for that matter. Heck, a considerable percentage of the media are OSU alumni or current students. Having covered the Buckeyes throughout the 2011-12 season, I can say that criticism of the team was valid, particularly during a stretch that saw it lose 3-of-5 games between Feb. 11-26.
The first of those three losses came at home against Michigan State on Feb. 11, and the Buckeyes were convincing, 58-48, losers. Statistically, Sullinger had one of his worst outings as an OSU player, tallying 17 points but connecting on just 5-of-15 field goal attempts.
Worse still was his lack of composure.
Sullinger trailed behind a play along with then-senior Michigan State forward Draymond Green. The two players had been yapping all game, and everyone in the gym saw that Green was in Sullinger’s head. OSU’s big man couldn’t keep his cool and Sullinger proceeded to entangle himself with Green and hauled him to the floor. The oafish act, which you rightly could have considered purposeful had you observed Sullinger throughout the game, was evidence of the player’s thin skin.
Maturity was lacking once again in a dust-up with the media following a pre-draft workout with the Toronto Raptors when Sullinger was asked about the ESPN.com report regarding back injuries and being “medically red-flagged” by doctors.
Sullinger demeaned the media while discussing concerns about possible back injuries throughout a two-minute interview — even when one reporter pitched a “softball” questions about what the player is trying to showcase during pre-draft workouts with teams.
“My ability to finish over length,” Sullinger said in a NBA.com video while shrugging and rolling his eyes. “Everybody said I can’t finish over length."
Then came an equally fair question about the widely-discussed subject of “Sully” slipping in the draft.
“No offense,” Sullinger began, “but most of you guys never player basketball, so what can they say?”
Sully is right — some in the media haven’t played basketball since junior high school, but does that mean they have a less-discerning eye when it comes to evaluating talent? You can be sure that Sullinger would run with any praise he received from the same non-player, media types as well.
The burden of scrutiny, especially when it comes in the form of criticism of the inter-workings and flaws of the player’s body, is a heavy cross to bear.
It’s also part of life as a professional athlete.
Does Sullinger expect to be coddled throughout his professional career? Is he going to be perturbed by every legitimate question or criticism that he may decide is offensive or unwarranted?
Jared — where you're going (that's a first-round draft selection, by the way), it doesn't work like that..