December 1, 2010

Sullinger quickly learns big lesson

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Moments after Ohio State's victory over Miami (Ohio) last Friday, freshman big man Jared Sullinger looked down at the box score and was visibly taken back by what he saw.

"Three rebounds," he quietly uttered. "That's not me."

So far in his basketball career, Sullinger hasn't become accustomed to feeling that way.

Sullinger, in fact, was used to feeling the exact opposite. Most recently in his senior season of high school at Columbus Northland, Sullinger became accustomed to dominating games, averaging 24.5 points and 12.3 rebounds en route to being the winner of the James A. Naismith Award and one of the most high school basketball prospects.

But as Ohio State head coach Thad Matta had warned him, it is a whole different game at the collegiate level - regardless of the opponent.

"In high school a lot of times you can show up and be 60 or 70 percent and still get 20 points and eight rebounds," Matta said early this week. "Now everybody is on scholarship and everyone wants to win and everybody is a little bit more athletic."

But perhaps a took a quiet game like the one Sullinger had against the Redhawks for the freshman to truly appreciate what his head coach was talking about.

At first, it seemed like it was going to be business as usual for Sullinger - a player many are touting as an NBA lottery pick at this point in his career.

In his first game as a Buckeye, Sullinger scored 19 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. In perhaps Ohio State's most impressive victory of the season in the second game of the year, Sullinger had an even better game with 26 points and 10 rebounds in Gainesville.

But as Matta explained, basketball is a grind. Though Miami (Ohio) may not be as good as Florida, Sullinger finally understood that the box score isn't going to effortlessly fill up with 20 points and 10 rebounds a game.

"Sometimes as a freshman, you come out and you walk out there and think, 'I'll do the same thing I did the last game,'" Sullinger said Monday, just a few days after the Miami game.

"Coach Matta told me, 'The first couple games you'll get what you want, and later on down the season, it's going to be tough.' And I see what he means now," Sullinger continued.

In Sullinger's first game since struggling against the Redhawks, the freshman proved he believed in what he was saying earlier in the week.

Against Florida State on Tuesday evening in Tallahassee, Sullinger was pitted against one of the best forwards in the country in Chris Singleton, the reigning ACC Player of the Year. Backed by Singleton, Florida State was in the top 20 in the nation with just over 42 rebounds per game.

Sullinger rose to the occasion.

Taking his head coach's advice, Sullinger said he concentrated on remaining active the entire game, which was visible in making Singleton work on both ends of the court.

In all, Sullinger finished the game with his third double-double of his career by grabbing 13 rebounds and 11 hard-fought points.

"Coach Matta told me after (the Miami game), he said in the second half I looked a lot better, I looked active," Sullinger said. "He said it shouldn't take him to motivate me. I took that to heart in practice. I've just been trying to motivate myself."

Matta has also said that you can't give young players experience, but instead the players must gain it on their own.

With a big game against Florida State Tuesday night, Sullinger not only proved he can respond to adversity, but demonstrated the maturity to learn from past mistakes and grow.

"I've just got to be active, like (David Lighty) told me," Sullinger said. "If you're active, people get tired. Especially with me being so big and active, it's kind of like a wear and tear on somebody's body."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for He can be reached at


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