Jared Sullinger, who shed 20 pounds last summer, is now being served some humble pie.
By ZAC JACKSONFS Ohio
Jared Sullinger's public response to Monday's news that he won't be invited to Thursday night's NBA Draft was to change his Twitter avatar to the cartoon character "Underdog."
It's a sign of the times. Reports have surfaced that NBA team doctors medically red-flagged Sullinger in recent weeks, sighting back issues for the 6-foot-9 power forward, who lost around 20 pounds last summer and played his final college season in the neighborhood of 265-270 pounds.
All Sullinger can do now is wait. It would be in his best interest to wait quietly, away from television cameras and Twitter, and make his next public statement one of thanks to the team that ends up selecting him on Thursday night.
A player who averaged 17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in 74 career college games can then tell his new bosses they got a steal, and there's a good chance he'll eventually be right.
There's something on those NBA medical reports that's making teams hesitate. It's not known exactly what those reports say, or how severe that injury may be. It's likely that a combination of those health concerns and questions about his overall athleticism have folks at the NBA office believing Sullinger will be drafted outside the lottery. This is why he didn't receive an invitation to the draft's "green room."
That was unthinkable two months ago — and probably even two weeks ago. But if the Sullinger camp's public insistence that he's healthy is even a little bit accurate, Sullinger becomes a potential steal. He might get himself selected in a good spot, too, with better teams generally picking outside the lottery and the possibility of a playoff team trading up from the 20's to the late teens — again, a previously unthinkable scenario — to draft him.
The news that he's not going to be at the draft had to be a blow to Sullinger's ego — probably the kind he's rarely had, and that makes it tougher. But if all of this leads to him landing in the right spot, it can be one of the best things that's happened to him.
Basketball is now his full-time business, and the NBA business is not always kind.
Like with every player in the draft, pursuing Sullinger is a matter of taste, preference and need. FOXSportsOhio.com spoke to two NBA general managers on Monday about Sullinger and his supposed falling stock. A Western Conference GM called drafting him "a big risk. ... No thanks."
An Eastern Conference GM said Sullinger "will probably lead all rookies in rebounding. So, yeah, please let him drop to us."
Such a variance in opinion is more reason for Sullinger to take the low-key route, let the draft play out and then worry about getting to work. He'll miss what he must have thought was an inevitable on-stage handshake with NBA commissioner David Stern and could lose some initial signing-bonus money, but he's the type of person (and personality) who will have plenty of opportunities to be a star on and off the court if he takes care of his business on it.
The second contract is when NBA players really start getting paid, anyway.
Sullinger can be a productive NBA player — and immediately. For every scouting report that says he won't jump over people to block shots or make a bunch of highlight-reel dunks, there are reasons to believe his instincts and basketball IQ will allow him to make a smooth transition into the pros.
Really, who ever thought one of those trumped-up, pre-draft "workouts" would be Sullinger's forte? No one who's studied him closely, which NBA teams have been doing for the better part of two years now.
As a freshman, it was Sullinger's rare maturity on and off the floor that helped the Buckeyes to a 34-win season and the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. It didn't take long for word to spread around college basketball about Sullinger's abilities, and he handled double-teams on the court and the spotlight off of it like a pro.
His sophomore year ended with the Buckeyes in the Final Four after, but only after he was slowed by foot and back issues early in the season and a tough stretch during Big Ten play when Sullinger admitted he let officiating and media criticism get to him. For the first time, Sullinger was a mere mortal in the public eye. That he responded by pushing his team to the Final Four was proof — to him, anyway — that he was ready for the NBA.
He's starting to know what such a decision truly entails., but he's entering a whole new world.
Now is the time for Sullinger — a mature 20-year-old with enough personality to match his talent — to swallow his humble pie, sweat it off in the gym and continue to go through whatever he's been doing to relieve stress from his back and/or his hamstrings. Thursday night is not the biggest night of his life.
Starting this fall, he has a bunch of NBA games to prove himself. Apparently, he's going to have the chance then to prove a bunch of NBA general managers wrong.