The Ohio State basketball commit's Columbus Northland Vikings are 12-0 and ranked No. 2 in Division I going into tonight's game with Columbus East, a similar situation to last season when the Vikings got to 25-0 before a sweet 16 loss to Newark. The lesson Sullinger, who was a freshman last year and is a member of Ohio State's class of 2010, and his Northland teammates learned a year ago – and the Patriots are learning now – is that perfection in the regular season doesn't mean a thing come playoff time.
"You go undefeated in the regular season, that doesn't mean anything," Sullinger said after his team moved to 11-0 with a win over north-side rival Columbus DeSales Saturday at the National City Classic in Value City Arena. "When you go to the playoffs, it's like you're starting all over with your season."
Therefore, the goal for the Vikings is to rectify last year's playoff loss, and they just might have the crew to do it. Senior Devon Moore operates as the team's heart and soul, sophomore James Weatherspoon provides a spark and the 6-9 Sullinger goes about his job scoring and pulling down rebounds in prodigious numbers.
But the wide-bodied, almost chubby, sophomore does more than bang with the other big bodies down low. His father and coach, James "Satch" Sullinger, said his youngest son's game is a combination of older brother J.J., an athletic guard for Ohio State who graduated in 2006, and current Kent State forward Julian. As it turns out, having two talented brothers can help mature ones skills, Jared explained.
"All summer I was playing them in one-on-one, and they would never let me get to the inside," he said. "They made me take the jump shots."
That sure appears to have helped him take off. Sullinger is already a five-star rated talent by Scout, but it's easy to see that with a few more years of seasoning at the prep level that even that moniker might be too shallow. Possessing a physique that almost reminds one of Charles Barkley, Sullinger shows an ability to work underneath that helped him compile game highs of 24 points and 17 rebounds against DeSales.
But he also handled the ball and drained his jumpers, showing the inside-outside skill that Ohio State coach Thad Matta loves to have out of his big men.
At one point, he showed the lack of mental acuity that at times marked J.J.'s game, at least early in his OSU career. Early in the third quarter, Sullinger picked up his third personal foul and quickly found himself on the bench next to his father. After about a minute of game time sitting, he was back on the floor with a lesson learned.
"At that point he was so far out of position, why pick up your third foul so easily?" Satch said. "When I brought him out and we couldn't do the things that we normally do because his skill wasn't on the floor to help on the perimeter and inside, I looked at him and said, ‘It's your fault because of the choice that you made.' Then I put him back in and a guy came to the bucket and he just stepped out of the way. OK, he got two points, but we still have our weapon in there.
"I told him, ‘You have all the skills. Now you have to develop the six inches (between the ears). You have to pick and choose. Sometimes you lose the battle but the goal is to win the war.' "
Those wars have been gone the way of Northland during the 2008 season, and Jared said he and his teammates have an eye on the prize after last year's surprising unbeaten run.
"We're just playing hard, just doing the same thing we do every day but getting a little better at everything we do," he said.
The other battle Sullinger must fight is in the classroom. He said the Ohio State coaches, when they talk to him, focus mainly on his academic exploits, a message that was also espoused by 2008 commit William Buford.
"What they want to see best out of me is books," Sullinger said. "That's their main priority. They could care less if I get better in the game, but if I'm coming here I gotta have the books and that's what they're focusing in. Every week I have to give them a progress report."
And Sullinger admits that after a few slip ups in that regard, he's back on the track set out for him.
"I'm doing better," he said. "The first nine weeks I kind of slipped up, made some mistakes, missed some papers, but I'm back on them. Hopefully I won't mess up this time."