At this stage of his basketball career, one would assume playing in the Kingdom League to be old hat for Jared Sullinger.
The dominant exhibitions put forth by the former Buckeye big man in front of Columbus crowds span well over a decade. From his days as a five-star phenom playing at Northland High School and the Ohio State Fairgrounds to his showcases at the Schottenstein Center – and even some Carmen’s Crew action in The Basketball Tournament – Sullinger has had ample opportunity to wow his hometown fans over the years.
When Sullinger walked into Alumni Hall at Ohio Dominican this past Sunday to participate in another contest at the aforementioned annual summer league tournament, it figured to be a rather routine affair. But with his entire family in attendance to watch him play for the first time in six years, it turned out to be anything but.
“I didn’t give a damn how big the real crowd was, my crowd was about maybe 20 deep. It’s never better playing in front of your family, man,” Sullinger said. “As a kid I took it for granted, but now going overseas, playing in China, you take stuff like this and you hold onto it.”
If you hadn’t seen Sullinger play since his run as a two-time consensus All-American at Ohio State in the early 2010s, you might have been surprised to see that the 6-foot-9 low-post force seemingly hasn’t lost a step on the hardwood.
In fact, Sullinger’s overall game may have improved, given the repertoire of fadeaway jumpers and 3-point shots he drained with ease on the afternoon. Of course, Sullinger’s trademark barrage of post moves and jump hooks was on display as well, and it all culminated in a 35-point explosion as the 30-year-old veteran turned out to be the standout performer of the day.
Given the contingent of Sullingers cheering him on in the bleachers, it was the type of showing he expected to have all along.
“Honestly, today I kind of knew I was going to have a performance like that because I got my whole family over there,” Sullinger said. “I haven’t had my whole family watch me play in I don’t know how long. It was kind of an emotional experience having them watch me play since it’s been about five or six years since they watched me do that. And then to have my kids here. So I kind of had a feeling I was going to do that.”
Even on the court Sullinger was among several players he considers family members. Former Buckeye center Evan Ravenel, who played with Sullinger at Ohio State in each of his two seasons with the program, suited up for the Buckeye Prep squad, and so did former Buckeye and Carmen’s Crew guard Keyshawn Woods. Also on the court was Sullinger’s nephew, Jalen Sullinger.
Jared Sullinger and Evan Ravenel reunited on the court at the Kingdom League: pic.twitter.com/Qahf9kk0yt— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) July 17, 2022
“Rav is included. That’s been my best friend since I stepped on campus at Ohio State, so he’s family. Always will be,” Sullinger said. “Keyshawn Woods as well. … It’s great, man. Rav, this is his second home. So it’s always great playing with him. And playing with my nephew as well, so I cherish these moments.”
Sullinger hasn’t exactly been an unfamiliar face for Buckeye fans over the past several years, even if they weren’t paying close attention to his career in the NBA and overseas. Following his final NBA season in 2016-17, Sullinger played for the Scarlet & Gray (since renamed Carmen’s Crew) Buckeye basketball alumni team in TBT, and suited up for the squad again when they played in Columbus for the first time the following year.
Sullinger served as head coach and general manager for Carmen’s Crew for the next three tournaments, which all saw the team play in front of Columbus fans, and the Ohio State alumni team took him the $2 million first-place prize for winning it all in 2019.
Assembling teams of former Buckeyes and practicing at the Schottenstein Center has enabled Sullinger to remain well-connected with his alma mater, despite the fact that former Ohio State head coach Thad Matta no longer runs the program. Sullinger has since assumed a mentorship role for several current Buckeyes, including junior center Zed Key.
Key is another Buckeye Prep teammate of Sullinger’s, and the New York native recently told Eleven Warriors he works out with his predecessor during the summer.
“With Zed, he’s like a little brother. He’s like a sponge; whenever you speak, he listens,” Sullinger said. “Great young man, and you can see how his development as a basketball player – not only as a basketball player but as a human being – you see it because he takes in the positive and he deals with the negative. And that’s what you love about Zed Key.
“The biggest thing about Zed Key, and he’ll tell you, he always thinks he’s the strongest man in the room. And so when I catch the ball in the block, I make facial expressions, I have a little hop (to my step), and he’s just sitting over there like, ‘Nah, you’re not gonna move me.’ So it’s just like two big grizzly bears battling on the block.”
Sullinger has played in China for three of the past four seasons with a gap year in between, and plans to seek another opportunity in the same country in 2022-23. But there’s little doubt he will continue leaving his footprint on basketball in Columbus for many years to come.