When Jared Sullinger was drafted by the Boston Celtics following his sophomore year at Ohio State, the only questions surrounding his game were about his health.
Sullinger still struggled to stay healthy with the Celtics, suffering a stress fracture in his foot during the 2014-15 season. Following the 2015-16 season, he signed a free-agent deal with the Toronto Raptors, but played in just three games before being traded, and ultimately waived by the Phoenix Suns in February of 2017.
He missed the remainder of the regular season, and ended up joining the Ohio State alumni team, Scarlet and Gray in The Basketball Tournament for the summer of 2017, hoping to win his share of $2 million, but also to show NBA scouts he was still worthy of an NBA contract.
Sullinger and the Buckeye alumni came up just short of the cash, falling in the semifinal round of the tournament. Sullinger was a first team All-Tournament player, leading Scarlet and Gray in scoring and rebounding, but ultimately, no NBA teams offered a deal. The Columbus native landed in the Chinese Basketball Association with the Shenzhen Leopards and put together stats that jumped off the page.
The former Buckeye big man averaged 30.1 points and 16.6 rebounds per game for the Leopards in 2017-18, finishing with a 25-13 overall record. His 16.6 boards per game led the league and his points per game total was ninth best in the league.
On Monday, it was announced Sullinger would return to Columbus for a second stint with Scarlet and Gray, perhaps in an effort to once again prove to NBA scouts that he can still play at a high level. First and foremost however, Sullinger said he is focused on winning the tournament and the $2 million.
"The ultimate goal is to win the $2 million. I don't want to short-come the team," Sullinger said Monday. "The ultimate goal is to win. I think everybody realizes what we should have done last year. We grew over the year with what we needed to do, so we are looking forward to the challenge."
In last summer's TBT, Sullinger averaged 16.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, as the Buckeye alumni advanced all the way to the final weekend, only to lose to Team Challenge ALS in double-overtime, 88-83. With the additions of Sullinger and former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden though, Scarlet and Gray appears to the the favorite to win the tournament.
Sullinger added that he is particularly excited about playing in front of what should be a Buckeye friendly crowd in the first two rounds of The Basketball Tournament. Scarlet and Gray is set to play at Capital University, just a short drive away from Ohio State's campus and from Northland High School, where Sullinger played his prep career.
"That's big time. We miss playing in front of our fans. I was in China this year, Dave (Lighty) was in France, (Evan) Ravenel was in Bulgaria and it's not the same," Sullinger said. "Scarlet and Gray, we carry a lot of weight being Ohio State Buckeyes. We miss the fans, and we can't wait to hear that 'O-H-I-O.'"
As for his health concerns that shortened his first stint in the NBA?
"I am 100 percent, don't worry about that," he said.