Big Stage Waiting For Sullinger

Since he issued a verbal commitment to Ohio State a number of years ago, it seems as if Jared Sullinger has been preparing himself to lead the Buckeyes into the NCAA Tournament. That chance has finally arrived, and the freshman forward said he is not sure how to fully grasp the moment.

It seems as if Jared Sullinger's entire life has been building up to what will begin this afternoon in Cleveland. When the ball tips at about 4:45 p.m. today against Texas-San Antonio, the Big Ten freshman of the year will take his first steps in the NCAA Tournament with the end goal of bringing a national championship back to Columbus.

A verbal commitment to Ohio State since his freshman year at Columbus Northland, Sullinger grew into one of the biggest prep prospects in his class. His arrival on campus helped solidify the program as a legitimate contender for the title.

So after having earned a considerable number of AAU championships, one state championship in high school and an immeasurable number of personal accolades, it would stand to reason that playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time would be an exciting proposition for the freshman. Instead, Sullinger's feelings on the subject trended more toward curiosity rather than giddiness.

"I really can't tell you right now because I don't know I should feel," he said. "I'm trying not to get my hopes up too high or get my hopes too low. Right now I'm just enjoying the friendship that we have and the basketball team and just getting ready to enjoy this ride."

Ready or not, the tournament is here. The Buckeyes enter it with a 32-2 overall record and as both the outright Big Ten regular-season champions and the conference tournament champions. Through it all, Sullinger has been a major part of his team's success.

His name now litters OSU's record book. His 40 points in one game are a program-best for his class and his 585 season points and 19 rebounds in a single game are each second-most for a freshman.

A first-team all-Big Ten player, Sullinger has also been named the national freshman of the year and brought home first-team All-America honors while averaging 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest.

First up: the Roadrunners, who boast a 20-13 record after winning the Southland conference tournament and a play-in game Wednesday against Alabama State. Seated inside Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, the first question asked of UTSA head coach Brooks Thompson's first question concerned how he planned to stop a player of Sullinger's ability.

"We're going to throw the kitchen sink at him," the coach said. "We'll have to double him some. We're going to have to do (different) things, but I think that's what makes Ohio State a very talented team.

"We all know what a load he is down there, and we don't have quite that size and girth and strength to us."

Sullinger is listed at 6-9, 280 pounds. The Roadrunners boast one player listed at 6-9 – Alex Vouyoukas – and he was not even with the team Thursday as he battled an illness. Two players on the roster are listed at 250 pounds: the 6-7 T.J. Williams and 6-4 Larry Wilkins.

Together, they average 7.6 points and 6.3 boards.

"We're not the tallest team out there," said Jeromie Hill, a 6-8, 230-pound forward who leads the team in rebounding at 6.8 per game. "We're a shorter team, so we look to front the post a bit. (We're) just trying to get him off the block and not allow them to get deep seals and back us down, because that's where our weakness would be."

Hill is also third on the team with an average of 13.6 points per game. Leading scorer Devin Gibson is a 6-0, 195-pound guard who is putting up 16.8 per contest.

Thompson said the biggest key for his team will be to match OSU's physicality. The coach added that he is not sure how his team will do that, joking they would "maybe try to play six or seven at one time."

After the 2005-06 Buckeyes lost a second-round matchup to Georgetown, senior J.J. Sullinger made a point to seek out his younger brother. Sizing him up, he told the young Jared that should OSU head coach Thad Matta offer him a scholarship, he should immediately take it.

Six years removed from that legendary moment, the OSU freshman said he understands that NCAA Tournament appearances can not be taken for granted.

"When it comes with my family background in basketball, it's very easy for me to understand with a father that's a coach and a winning coach at that," he said. "With a family like that, you really understand because they told me there's no tomorrow when it comes to the NCAA. It's win and advance and that's it."

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