Sullinger to Boston, ready to prove himself

Jared Sullinger must have aged this week.

If he’s healthy, a team that already has a few good old men got itself a steal.

Sullinger slipped all the way to No. 21, but the Boston Celtics made sure he slipped no further in Thursday night’s NBA Draft. Considered by most a sure-fire lottery pick since he starting dominating on the college basketball court 19 months ago, Sullinger wasn’t invited to the draft after several teams reportedly red-flagged his medical report.

The former Ohio State star slides into what looks to be a good spot with a veteran team — though one that’s in transition — and a proven coach in Doc Rivers. Athletic point guard Rajon Rondo should create scoring opportunities for Sullinger, who’s spent practically his whole life watching his new front court mate, Kevin Garnett.

Sullinger is 20 years old. Garnett just finished his 17th NBA season.

“The fact that Jared Sullinger fell to us is just fortunate,” Rivers said. “He gives us a rebounder, a high IQ player, great shooter from the outside.

“You sit there and you think, ‘Wow, this guy – people may pass on him.'”

Sullinger watched the draft in Columbus with friends and family. He had changed his Twitter avatar on Monday to the cartoon character “Underdog” after learning that he wouldn’t be invited to the draft, but Thursday night he said he was focused only on what’s ahead and the chance to join a winning organization.

“It’s a blessing in disguise,” Sullinger said of going to Boston. “It’s only getting started.”

That a Celtics team that just played the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals would get Sullinger at No. 21 and Syracuse center Fab Melo a pick later would have seemed an unthinkable scenario before March. Melo was ruled ineligible by Syracuse to play in the NCAA Tournament, but he was defensive force for a team that spent much of the season ranked No. 1.

It was Sullinger’s play as a freshman in 2010-11 that had Ohio State ranked No. 1 for much of the year, and he was up-and-down yet very good again last season for a team that made it all the way to the Final Four, ironically topping Melo-less Syracuse in Boston in the East regional final.

It’s believed the medical issues involve his back; Celtics president Danny Ainge told Boston media Thursday night Sullinger has a disc issue that may or may not require surgery.

The 6-foot-9 Sullinger missed time with back and foot issues last December. He lost around 20 pounds last summer and played his final college season in the neighborhood of 265-270 pounds.

“We feel pretty good about it, otherwise we wouldn’t have taken him,” Rivers said. “I played 13 years with a bad back. All the doctors we talked to gave him clearance.”

Sullinger averaged 17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in 74 career college games. He was best — and played almost exclusively — with his back to the basket at the college level, but he’ll likely get to expand his scoring range at the NBA level.

Now, after a trying period involving workouts, rumors and reports from all kinds of sources, he simply gets to play basketball. He’ll have every opportunity to prove he has the skill set to have a solid, productive NBA career.

“It’s a blessing,” Sullinger said. “I can’t wait.”