About midway through the first half of the TBT quarterfinals in Brooklyn, Jared Sullinger took an in-bound pass from Aaron Craft low in the post near the right block.
Jamil Wilson was tasked with guarding the 6’9” big-bodied Sullinger.
He didn’t stand a chance.
Sullinger waited patiently, holding the ball high above his head, threatening to pass out of the oncoming double team. The double team never came, so he went to work. He took two dribbles, forced his way inside, hooked in the bucket, and drew the foul from Wilson. Sully celebrates.
Five years ago, this would’ve been a nationally televised game between Ohio State and Marquette. Instead on a summer Sunday in Brooklyn, it was the “Scarlet And Gray” against the “Golden Eagles,” a collection of former Ohio State and Marquette ballplayers who’ve since gone overseas, to the NBA D League, to the NBA for a brief period, or a combination of all three.
Sullinger, a former NBA first-round pick in 2012, has had much more than a cup of coffee in the NBA. He’s played five seasons in the league and that was after two dominant seasons as a Buckeye, which followed a five-star high school career.
And if you watched him now, you would think he’s still on top of the world after a 21-point, seven-rebound performance Saturday followed by a 15-point, eight-rebound showing Sunday, his first back-to-back nights of basketball since January with Toronto. And he was 0-for-9 in those games.
Still, the 25-year-old says he’s at rock bottom ... just hoping for a break that maybe, just maybe the Nets could give him.
“I’m at the bottom right now. I’m grinding to get to the top of the ladder,” Sullinger told NetsDaily in an exclusive post-game interview. That’s a big drop for a player who averaged 12 points and eight rebounds through 26 minutes per contest during his best NBA run from 2013 to 2016, spanning 213 games (166 starts).
“When you’re playing the game of basketball you always have to stay in that mindset. That’s how you stay hungry. All my life it seemed like things were just given to me. Now it’s on me and I’m enjoying every second of it.”
After being waived by the Suns in February, Sullinger hadn’t played competitively until he was approached to join the group of Buckeye alumni trying to win the $2 million, winner-take-all prize at the TBT.
Sullinger says he’s been humbled, and will be better off as a result, no matter what happened.
“Oh for sure,” he responded when asked if he had grounded himself. “Overall as a human being, not just basketball. Things I used to do, I don’t do anymore. I’m all about self-discipline and self-reflection. At the end of the day you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and understand what you did was wrong.”
The issue, of course, was weight and conditioning ... or lack of it. He got up to 320 pounds in 2016 (and yet still averaged 10.3 and 8.3 over 81 games!). He says he’s down to 285.
“With nobody watching, sometimes I just brushed it off,” he said, talking about his conditioning. “Now when nobody is watching, and I’ve done something wrong, I look at myself in the mirror and say ‘hey, I made a mistake.’”
How interested are the Nets? We don’t know. Brooklyn doesn’t advertise its plans.
Trajan Langdon, Sean Marks No. 2, was in the building — LIU-Brooklyn’s Steinberg Wellness Center — on Saturday. According to Fran Fraschilla of ESPN, the Nets were scouting Sullinger up close, perhaps hoping he could contribute in the role Anthony Bennett failed at last season: The fallen angel given a last chance. Throughout the two games, Fraschilla all but implored NBA GM’s to give him another chance.
Sullinger says he had no idea of Fraschilla’s report, and that he’s not getting too caught up into it. Ultimately, it’s out of his hands, and he understands.
“That’s a shock to me,” he said regarding the Net rumor. “I’d take advantage of it because, you’ve got all these great basketball players under one roof, so why not?”
“The situation with me is, I can’t come calling the NBA, they have to call me,” he continued, humbly. “So now I just sit back and wait until somebody makes a call. If no one calls, there’s other options. At the same time, it’s all about myself.”
There is a Brooklyn connection. Sullinger’s mother is from Brooklyn. So perhaps there’s a little more to this already!
Or, maybe not.
The Nets have already added one Ohio State product this season, D’Angelo Russell. They didn’t overlap at Columbus.
For now, he’ll wait. He has to. Sullinger and his squad will return to action on August 1 for the Final Four of The Basketball Tournament.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll see him at an NBA training camp afterward.
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