CHICAGO: Ever since middle school, Jared Sullinger has heard the same criticisms about his game: Too fat, too slow, too short, can’t jump, no foot speed and on and on and on. Now that he’s hearing all about it again at the NBA combine, Sullinger has had enough.
“Everybody is overanalyzing my game,” he said. “I’m always the bad guy in every gym. Everybody says I can’t do this or that, everybody points out all the negative things I do. There’s a lot of positives I think I do, but that’s not for me to discuss.”
Sullinger met Thursday night with the Cavaliers, who brought General Manager Chris Grant, assistant GMs Michael Blackstone and David Griffin, scouting director Trent Redden, pro player personnel director Wes Wilcox and recent front-office addition Zydrunas Ilgauskas to Chicago for the combine. He also met with representatives from the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns, Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks. Sullinger said he wasn’t sure where he was headed for workouts or who was on the list, but he is sure he’ll succeed in the NBA despite all the criticisms. He is projected to go anywhere from seventh to the middle of the first round, which is lower than he would have gone last season in a draft that wasn’t nearly as deep.
Sullinger had the opportunity to be selected in the top six or seven had he elected to turn pro after last season, but he chose to return to the Buckeyes for another year. He lost 25 pounds, learned to play facing the basket instead of with his back to it and averaged 17.5 points and 9.2 rebounds.
He was named the nation’s Freshman of the Year by most everyone last year and followed it up with a first team All-America selection this year. He has soft hands and a smooth shot, but appeared mentally soft at times with the Buckeyes and doesn’t play above the rim at all.
Still, he measured in at 6-foot-9 with a wingspan of more than 7-1 — slightly longer than 7-foot center Tyler Zeller.
He led the Buckeyes to a 31-8 record and Final Four appearance this season and said he never second-guessed his decision to return to school, even though he conceded he heard he could’ve been drafted in the top three last season.
“It helped me out big time,” he said of the extra year. “Maturity-wise, I’m focused. There are certain things I didn’t do my freshman year that I learned to do my sophomore year. Just getting my body in shape. That’s why I was so blessed to come back for my sophomore season.”
Comparisons to Sullinger range from Elton Brand to Kevin Love. Both of them have enjoyed successful careers in the NBA — Brand is also 6-9, made two All-Star teams and has earned more than $140 million in his career. Love is one of the top power forwards in the game today.
Like Sullinger now, Love was doubted and scrutinized when he was selected fifth overall in 2008. He was labeled as pudgy, not athletic and slow. Since then, he has averaged 17.3 points and 12 rebounds and made the All-Star team each of the past two years.
“He’s going to be a great pro,” said Michigan State forward Draymond Green, who will work out for the Cavs next week, after battling Sullinger the past two years. “He’s contributed at every level. What’s going to stop him from contributing in the pros? I don’t see what will stop him.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.