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His desire for fast feet on the court meant no stops for fast food on his two-hour drive from Columbus to the LeBron James Skills Academy.
A lighter and quicker Jared Sullinger is preparing for a second season of college basketball most outside observers thought would never come. And Sullinger, who immediately became the Big Man on Ohio State's Campus in his freshman season, wants to be a little smaller, a little more complete and a lot more of a leader this time around.
He's here at the University of Akron through Thursday with 20 other college stars – or soon-to-be stars, anyway. Sullinger and Kentucky incoming freshman Anthony Davis headline a group of impressive big men that also includes Thomas Robinson of Kansas, UConn's Alex Oriakhi and Mason and Miles Plumlee of Duke.
The official camp roster lists Sullinger at 6'10, 281, though he said he's lost "10 to 15" pounds over the last several months on a regimen that includes boxing, weightlifting and running stadium stairs. Asked what's the most improved part of his game from a freshman season that saw him average 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, he cited "conditioning."
If he can be lighter without losing the lower body strength and low-post scoring touch that made him one of the nation's best players last year, the Buckeyes might flirt with the 34 wins they posted last year – and the four that eluded them as the top national seed lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
"I'll let you guess how much I actually weigh, but I feel good," Sullinger said. "I'm able to move better. In my individual workouts I've really gotten a lot of shots up. I've really worked on my face-up game and being able to handle the ball a little bit more."
Sullinger shot 54 percent from the floor last year, but most of those came in the paint. He has both touch and a little range, but last year he didn't need to shoot much as the Buckeyes had Jon Diebler shooting from deep and David Lighty doing a little of everything from the wing. With those two and center Dallas Lauderdale gone, he might need to score more. And he'll certainly be asked to lead.
Sullinger's desire to be a hands-on leader for the Buckeyes' talented freshman class is the main reason he chose to skip the chance to play for Team USA at the Under-19 world championships this summer. He said the new arrivals "get it early" and that he and fellow returnees Aaron Craft and William Buford are driven by that Kentucky loss.
"We're going to be young," Sullinger said. "We're going to have to have open eyes and open ears. I think we can show these guys that hard work paid off in winning the Big Ten last year and that we want to do even more this year."
Sullinger said Ohio State coach Thad Matta has asked him to think of himself more as a junior than a sophomore in embracing his leadership responsibilities, but the truth is Matta is glad to have him back at all. Despite knowing that he would have been a top-10 pick – and possibly top-five – in last month's NBA draft, Sullinger announced immediately after the Kentucky game that he was coming back to school for his sophomore year.
He's taking classes this summer and is even spending a little extra time in Akron catching up on homework.
"Honestly, it was as easy decision," he said of returning to school. "I wanted to be a kid. I wanted to play basketball. The NBA lockout had no influence on my decision. I wanted to live college life. You only get to live once.
"People say it's risky, but I could care less honestly. It's my life. I made the decision that's best for me."