Sullinger knew what he was turning his back on when he opted to return to Ohio State for a second season. He thought about what he would be leaving in the balance, but it all seemed unimportant when compared to another chance at the NCAA Tournament.
It was a tough decision, needless to say. The boyhood dream for every basketball star is to reach the NBA and enjoy the fortuitous life that comes with it. But he left the pros and cons behind when he made that decision and hasn't revisited them since.
"No," Sullinger responded when asked if he ever thought twice about his decision not to go to the NBA after his freshman season. "I love this school too much and I knew this basketball team had a chance to win."
Sullinger had a piece of the net from Ohio State's 77-70 win over Syracuse in the East Regional semifinal tied around his Final Four hat when answered that question. Ahead of him is a career in the NBA, no doubt, but a stop in the Final Four now will come first.
"His goal was within the realm of their reality," his father, Satch Sullinger, told BSB after the game. "It wasn't a goal that was unrealistic. It was a realistic goal. He's always been raised to know that if you have a dream you have to participate in your own dream. That's what this team did."
This was the vision the All-America big man had when he suffered injuries to his lower back and foot early in the season. He pictured a deep NCAA Tournament run when Ohio State's suffered three losses in eight games during the month of February. Holding a national championship trophy was all that mattered when he admitted to being distracted by the way referees were calling games late in the regular season.
Sullinger could have been thinking about what he left behind – the allure of the NBA, after all, is probably stronger than one would think. Sullinger never pondered it. Not once.
"He's got that winning mentality – that refuse to lose mentality," OSU assistant Jeff Boals said of Sullinger. "His goal is to win a national championship and he's won on every level. He has an unbelievable will to win."
Here Sullinger stands, now only two wins away from a national championship. The second-seeded Buckeyes (31-7) will play the winner of Sunday's Midwest Regional final between North Carolina and Kansas Saturday in New Orleans. Gone are the vivid memories of Ohio State's early departure from the NCAA Tournament a year ago. The top-seeded Buckeyes lost to No. 4 Kentucky in the Sweet 16 despite being a team that many current players still feel should have won the national championship.
Sullinger refused to allow another early departure, even if many thought it was going to be an inevitable occurrence for this year's team. Despite being limited to six minutes in the first half against the Orange, he continued his impressive NCAA Tournament run by scoring 19 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Ohio State has leaned on the big man in every game of the Big Dance. He's averaging 18 points and 9½ rebounds through four tournament games and he'll continue to be the player the coaching staff will to rely in New Orleans.
Perhaps Sullinger would be happy in the NBA this season. Given the decision he made when the NBA was a realistic option a year ago, however, Sullinger wouldn't even trade his boyhood dream for his spot in the center of the Final Four stage.
"Right now, I am just speechless," Sullinger said