They’ve also been opponents, like during the 2012 Big Ten season when Sullinger wore scarlet and gray and Burke wore maize and blue.
Saturday afternoon at Columbus East High School, they were actually both.
Team Sully matched up against Team Burke on the hardwood, but the contest was actually all about the community on the east side of Columbus. The game – played in front of a packed house – was the eighth annual “Battle for Peace” put on by Rodgers Neighborhood Basketball and co-sponsored by the Trey Burke Foundation, which supports the Central Ohio Diabetes Association and the Ronald McDonald House.
“We have been doing the RNB Classic for nearly a decade now and decided it was time to evolve the event to better meet the needs of our community,” said Leon Rodgers, founder of Rodgers Neighborhood Basketball. “Much like diabetes, violence has been a huge public health problem in our community. The goal of RNB is to promote peace and to stop violence before it begins. In partnering with Trey, we are increasing awareness about two important issues disproportionately affecting our community.”
So while promoting harmony and health in the community was the goal, there was still some damn good basketball played. Team Sully included such former Ohio State stars as Sullinger and his brother J.J., Scoonie Penn, Evan Ravenel, Jon Diebler, Terence Dials and George Reese, and the team captain said he took the court fully expecting to get the win.
“I think this year it’s more of a game,” Sullinger, who just finished his second year with the Boston Celtics, said before the contest. “It’s not an all-star game, it’s not a celebrity game, it’s a basketball game. Everybody is fighting for the city of Columbus.”
Sullinger had to be pleased, then, when his squad pulled away from Burke’s team to post a 107-102 victory in the 40-minute game played under college rules. Ravenel helped the red-clad team get out to an early lead with a strong first half while Sullinger and Penn finished things off, especially as the clock ticked under 50 seconds and the two-time All-America forward found the Final Four-appearing guard under the hoop for the game-sealing layup.
And anyone who doubted the intensity of the contest just had to listen to Burke as twice in the last minute he complained that too much time ran off the East High clock after he scored a bucket in the futile effort to bring his team back into the game.
In the end, though, the day was about much more than just hoops, as a 3-on-3 basketball tournament for third through eighth graders was held before the contest and a carnival-like atmosphere was found inside and out of the high school as part of the resource health fair held in conjunction with the event.
“This is a special event,” Dials said. “With so much violence going on, to have something like that for the community that promotes peace is something good. It’s grown each year. I played in the inaugural year and it was very small, small gym, and it’s grown every year. It’s a testament to the people in the community and Leon Rodgers and his supporters.”
“I’m just thankful and blessed to have an opportunity to promote peace in the community,” Ravenel said. “I’m not from here. Coming to Columbus and watching the event, I’m even happier I get to take part in the game.”
For many, Burke – whose father, Benji, served as coach of his team while OSU national player of the year Evan Turner manned the bench for Sullinger’s side – was the star of the show. That’s especially true for those like the Sullingers who grew up with Burke before going on to watch him star with the Northland Vikings, Michigan and now the Utah Jazz.
“Trey is like my little brother, man,” J.J. Sullinger said. “He did real well at Michigan, and he even turned me into a Michigan fan for two years unless they were playing Ohio State. At the end of the day, you have to go where you’re wanted and where you’re happy and where you’re able to show what you can do, and there was no better place than Michigan for him.”
The event was co-sponsored by 10TV in Columbus and also featured station sports anchor Dom Tiberi speaking to the crowd – which en masse signed a pledge to end distracted driving – before the game about Maria’s Message, which aims to prevent tragedies like the car accident that took his daughter’s life last September.