COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — After guiding Ohio State to the Final Four, two-time All-American forward Jared Sullinger figured he might as well see what he could do for an NBA team.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore announced on Wednesday that he is giving up his final two seasons with the Buckeyes to make himself available for the NBA draft in June. Most projections have him going in the top 10 picks.
“Going to the Final Four with a team that many people said we weren’t good enough, weren’t strong enough, weren’t mentally tough enough, and still being able to get to the Final Four with all the ups and downs we had, I think that was tremendous for this basketball team,” Sullinger said, flanked by his parents and coach Thad Matta. “Once we got to the Final Four, we were trying to win it. But unfortunately, we fell short. I feel at peace with the decision I’m making.”
The Buckeyes lost to Kansas 64-62 in the national semifinals on Saturday.
Sullinger averaged 17.5 points and 9.2 rebounds a game while shooting 52 percent from the field, 77 percent at the line and 40 percent on 3-pointers while leading the Buckeyes to a 31-8 record and a Final Four berth. He was 63-10 as a starter.
“I’ve always said he’s one of the most intellectual players I’ve ever coached,” Matta said. “He came in that way as a freshman. The thing is that people don’t know he studies the game. Not only the college game, but the NBA game. He can tell you a lot about a lot of NBA issues. For him, the timing is definitely right.”
Sullinger’s father, Satch, was his coach at national power Northland High School in Columbus. He believed the youngest of his three sons, all of whom played Division I basketball, had the ability to play in the NBA. But he also knew he wasn’t ready a year ago when Jared was considered a top-five pick.
“The skill set’s always been there. But last year, at this time, I wasn’t comfortable as a parent with the option of him possibly going to the NBA,” Satch Sullinger said.
“Jared’s had it pretty easy in basketball, he’s been relatively injury free. This year I watched the peaks and valleys and I watched him mature. There’s only one way to get experience and that’s by being inexperienced in a situation. I watched him be immature in certain things and work his way out of it. I saw that consistency start to come back during the end of the season run all the way through the Final Four.”
Jared Sullinger came back for his sophomore season with a dramatically different team — missing three senior starters from a top-ranked team that finished 34-3 — and with a dramatically different body. He shed 25 pounds and was much more mobile. Rather than get all of his points with his back to the basket on the block, he frequently popped outside to shoot over defenders. He became one of the Buckeyes’ top 3-point threats.
He battled through back spasms and a foot injury early in the year. Sullinger was at his best down the stretch, scoring a huge basket in the closing seconds at Northwestern that kept the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title hunt. They then won at Michigan State in the final regular-season game to tie Michigan State and Michigan for the championship.
Deshaun Thomas, a 6-7 sophomore at Ohio State, is also considering the NBA.
Matta said he was still compiling information for Thomas, who is mulling his decision. Sullinger said he had not spoken to his teammate.
Sullinger’s brothers, J.J., who played at Ohio State, and Julian, a former Kent State player, were also in attendance at the news conference. Jared said they made his decision easier.
In particular, he said he was thankful that J.J. had gone to Matta several years back, “begging him to recruit the little short fat kid.”
Matta joked that he had already offered a scholarship to J.J.’s 5-year-old son.