July 2, 2012

Sullinger brings winning ways to Boston

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

Between the 2009 state championship that he won at Northland high school and the 2012 Final Four that he helped lead Ohio State to last April, Jared Sullinger has found success at every level where he's played basketball. And now that the former Buckeyes star is headed to the Boston Celtics, his reputation as a winner isn't likely to fade any time soon.

The Celtics- who came within just one game of last month's NBA Finals before falling to the eventual league champion Miami Heat- selected Sullinger with the No. 21 overall pick in last Thursday's NBA draft. Boston's acquisition of the two-time All-American was just the first of a few moves that general manager Danny Ainge made last weekend in hopes of extending his aging roster's title window.

Ainge followed his selection of Sullinger with the addition of former Syracuse center Fab Melo with the draft's No. 22 pick. After adding depth and youth to the Celtics' front court, the Boston front office turned its attention towards retaining the talent and experience that has made it a championship contender since 2008.

It started with the re-signing of center Kevin Garnett to a three-year extension, and the next step for the Celtics will be attempting retaining all-star guard Ray Allen. Returning Garnett and potentially Allen to a line-up that already consists of all-stars Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce will be crucial towards keeping the Celtics' title hopes alive for the 2012-13 season.

"We want to get the band back together and add to it," Celtics coach Doc Rivers told Yahoo! Sports. "We have a great locker room with no issues. Guys want to be back and want to be a part of this."

That's good news for Sullinger, who could potentially find himself starting alongside Boston's quartet of stars depending on how the remainder of the offseason plays out. Second-year forward JaJuan Johnson and reserve forward Sean Williams are the only front line players that the Celtics currently have under contract to return alongside Garnett.

Although a starting spot in Boston appears to be his for the taking, Sullinger said that he'll be comfortable playing in any role that's asked of him in the NBA.

"I've had my ups and my downs," Sullinger said when asked of the prospects of potentially coming off the bench in the NBA. "But whatever happens happens and I'm just prepared for whatever happens."

While the Celtics have yet to announce what role they expect the Columbus native to play on their team, it was clear that they were excited to see Sullinger slip to them during Thursday's draft.

"Obviously, we needed to address height," Rivers told reporters. "The fact that Jared Sullinger fell to us is just fortunate. Last year he would have been a top five pick. All year he was a top-10 pick. The fact that he kept falling to us gives us a rebounder, high IQ player, great passer, and a very good shooter from the outside, gives us some physical force."

Ainge echoed Rivers' sentiments, adding that the organization wasn't bothered by the back issues that caused Sullinger to free fall from the draft's lottery to the first round's bottom half.

"We were concerned and we did our research on the back issues and felt comfortable," Ainge said. "He may need surgery at some point, he may not."

Should Sullinger remain healthy- as his new team expects him to- he'll find himself playing on a team that has been to the conference finals in three of the past five years, with the hopes of pushing the Celtics to a record 18th NBA championship. And given the marks he made in high school and college, there's no reason to expect any less from the 6-foot-9 forward.


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