NBA next logical step for Sullinger

April 2, 2012

Now that Ohio State's season is over, it's reasonable to assume Jared Sullinger is all but gone to the NBA.

Though the biggest butt in this equation remains the one Sullinger uses to gain position and leverage around the basket, his departure from the only college program he ever wanted to play for isn't a totally done deal.

It probably will be by the NBA's underclassmen entry deadline of April 10, but Sullinger at least has some thinking to do.

Entering the NBA Draft seems the next logical step for Sullinger, who surprised many by not leaving school a year ago. He's not going to be a top five pick -- and he might not be a top 10 pick -- but he's going to be a lottery pick when he does pick the NBA. He's averaged a little over 17 points and almost 10 rebounds per game over two college seasons and helped the Buckeyes to two outstanding seasons, including a Final Four appearance this year.

As far as the pounding he takes -- and gives -- in the paint, he might as well start getting paid for it.

But Sullinger said last year his one and only goal was to bring a national championship to his hometown and to Ohio State, and with his second half struggles in Saturday night's loss to Kansas he's going to have to get his over his anger and disappointment before he talks with his father and brothers and thinks about his impending NBA decision.

Anyone who knows Sullinger knew that was coming, and his father, Satch, provided as much insight as he could during an appearance on a Columbus television station Sunday night. Satch Sullinger said the family will talk through it and that one thing he knows for certain is that his youngest son will graduate from college regardless of what decision he makes.

"My question for Jared," Satch Sullinger said, "is, 'What do you have left to prove?'"

There, basically, is your answer.

Right now, Jared Sullinger has to be physically and mentally exhausted. Satch Sullinger said health is a "major issue," and it's also a question that can be tied to what Jared Sullinger has to prove after he had feet and back issues this season. What he needs to prove besides that he'll be healthy after a month's rest is that he can effectively score and win consistent post battles against bigger, stronger opponents, the kind he'll face almost every night in the NBA and the kind he faced only on occasion at the college level.

Again, there's your answer.

He's probably going to enter the draft. Sullinger himself hinted at it at various points this season. You won't get it on the record, but the Ohio State coaching staff would be shocked if he returned. He didn't bring the big prize home, but Sullinger has proven what he can prove against college competition, has created an Ohio State legacy and has helped the program establish itself among the nation's elite. Those things all mean something to Sullinger, and they'll likely help make his decision easier.

He's going to think about coming back, though. Really. That's how Sullinger is wired, and that's how focused -- almost solely -- he's been on winning at Ohio State.

Maybe he can't do any more than he's done. But he shot 5-of-19 vs. Kansas, and if he leaves he'll hate leaving on that note, like he hated that the Buckeyes' dream season of 2010-11 ended in the Sweet 16 on a night Sullinger was just OK.  

Another thing that's different this year: Sullinger said immediately following Ohio State's NCAA Tournament loss when he was a freshman that he was coming back to school. He certainly has the right to take his time this time around -- this is no small decision -- but there's a lot that points to Sullinger knowing, possibly as far back as last summer, that besides One Shining Moment there wasn't one really strong reason such a gifted kid in such a big body would play more than two years of college basketball.

Is he the next Kevin Love? Is he the next Sean May? The ultimate answer to that NBA question won't come for a while, and that answer probably has nothing to do with the decision. The eyes of the NBA have a pretty good grasp on what Sullinger is, what he isn't and what he can bring to a franchise immediately. As long as whatever is ailing Sullinger can be chalked up to wear and tear and not structural or long-term damage, he'll be a coveted draft prospect. Big still trumps small -- or even just pretty big -- in the NBA, and a 6'9, 270 (or so) pounder with natural strength, a high basketball IQ and zero off-court baggage is a coveted commodity in the NBA.

It comes back to the question Satch Sullinger said he'll pose: What, exactly, can Jared Sullinger prove by staying for another college season?

Besides that he really, really, really loves Ohio State, not a lot. He will get his degree eventually, but he'll fund it by the NBA Lottery and not with his current scholarship.