Ohio State’s played 94 games since adding Justice Sueing to the roster as a California transfer in 2019. Sueing’s only been on the floor for 33 of them.
The Hawaii native sat out his first year due to NCAA transfer rules that have since been changed, but even then, he would’ve missed the second half of the year due to a foot injury suffered in practice. Sueing started all 31 games in 2020-21, but his fifth year – expected to be his last as a college basketball player – was thought to be his true opportunity for breakthrough success.
That chance never came.
Sueing missed all but two games in 2021-22 as he dealt with a hernia injury stemming from the end of the previous year. While a return to the court wasn’t ruled out until the late stages of the season, it didn’t materialize for the versatile 6-foot-8 forward. In fact, Sueing didn’t receive full medical clearance until the end of August.
Now healthy, Sueing’s ready to make good on the potential he’s long flashed but hasn’t quite capitalized on in totality.
“Like it’s been going around, I’m 100%, 110% if you want to say that. I’m ready,” Sueing said in an interview session at Ohio State media day Monday. “This next month of official practice is something I’ve been excited about for a really long. So I’m excited to finally get out there for Buckeye Nation.
"I feel better than I felt, ever. So it’s a great feeling that I have finally.”
Sueing averaged 10.7 points per game as Ohio State’s third-leading scorer two seasons ago. Before Malaki Branham emerged as a freshman sensation, Sueing entered last year projected to be the Buckeyes’ second-best player behind E.J. Liddell.
Even with Branham’s surprising success, not to mention a career-best year for Liddell, the Buckeyes failed to get past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, a benchmark the program has yet to achieve under head coach Chris Holtmann.
Sueing only played in the first two games of the year but didn’t resemble his 2020-21 form. Ahead of Ohio State’s third game of the season, Holtmann announced Sueing had a significant injury, one the staff thought he had recovered from over the offseason, and that there was no clear timetable to return.
Sueing said struggling to get back onto the court before the end of the season and watching his teammates struggle in moments he knew his presence on the court was needed, was a frustrating process.
"He looks great. And he is healthy. I think he's a young man who's anxious. He's anxious to get out there. He's anxious to be healthy, and he really wants to stay healthy."– Chris Holtmann on Justice Sueing
“I’d say that it was one of the toughest things I've had to go through in my career, just trying to get back into the motion of things coming off of injury. I tried throughout the season multiple times. It just didn’t line up right,” Sueing said. “The important thing is I had a good support system here, a support system at home. It got me good.
“It hurt a lot just because of how much I’ve grown with each and every one of my teammates over the past couple of years, knowing that it was gonna be my last time kind of being with them. That’s what hurt the most, I’d say, mentally. But just being able to watch those couple games where I was like, ‘If I was out there, I know we’d take it.’ But unfortunately, it didn’t happen, and things have to move on, but I’m excited to be a part of this team, Team 124.”
Sueing said he could still do “a lot” on the court during his recovery process but not “perform at the elite level I needed to.” And after the season, Sueing’s future with the Buckeyes was not guaranteed. He said all options were on the table before deciding on a sixth year of college basketball.
“It was really up in the air. I had options open of transferring, staying, going pro, a lot of decisions I had to go through and walk through with my family,” Sueing said. “Ultimately, I couldn’t see myself transferring to another school. I see myself ending my career here as a Buckeye. So I wanted to fulfill that and also make a run with this team.”
Now a little more than a month away from starting that run, Holtmann said Sueing is itching to get back on the court and has already received captain status for a team with much less experience than the senior-laden 2021-22 roster.
Despite spending nearly an entire season on the sidelines, Holtmann isn’t putting any limitations on his expectations for the veteran.
“I think Justice looks great. He looks great. And he is healthy. You know, I think he's a young man who's anxious. He's anxious to get out there,” Holtmann said Monday. “He's anxious to be healthy, and he really wants to stay healthy. And for a kid like him who had a whole season taken away from him, with the exception of that one game, you really want it for him. He was a really important part of our team that was a two seed in the NCAA Tournament and had a good year, and he was going to be a really, really important part of last year's team. So he'll be a captain. We're excited about what he's gonna be.”
Sueing didn’t play in Ohio State’s exhibition games in the Bahamas in August, but his teammates have already seen plenty of proof regarding the player he can be this season. Freshman walk-on Colby Baumann said Sueing asserted himself as a force to be reckoned with right off the bat upon receiving medical clearance.
"I feel like I have a really good game, probably one of the best in the country. So I'm excited to see how we mesh together and are able to perform.”– Justice Sueing
“The first day back in practice, it looked like he never left. He still has that level of competitiveness and that skill. It doesn't look like he ever left,” Baumann said. “I think he’s gonna have a huge impact on this team. … I remember helping him out with workouts before he came back, and he can still shoot the ball at an amazing level, just stuff like that that made me realize how great of a player he was.”
Freshman center Felix Okpara said Sueing has been “killing us” in practice, and Wright State transfer Tanner Holden said Sueing “hasn’t missed a beat.”
“I know whenever people finally realized he was cleared, there was still a lot of questions, but I think he’s answered all those questions. He’s been able to practice with us all the time. He’s making plays,” Holden said. “I think he’s gonna have a hell of a year.”
Along with third-year Buckeyes Zed Key and Eugene Brown, Sueing is one of just three returning Ohio State players to have actually seen time in a game last season. Including Baumann, the Buckeyes have six freshmen on their roster and three first-year transfers joining the fold.
That means Sueing’s role could be a (if not the) primary one for Ohio State as its young roster learns the ropes. Sueing isn’t guaranteeing he’ll be the front man for the Buckeyes, but he isn’t lacking confidence in his ability and knows he has lost time to make up for in 2022-23.
“I think we’re really early as far as roles in general, but for myself, something I’ve always been pretty consistent is just to be a leader out there to these guys, especially a younger group," Sueing said. "As well as being able to produce in whichever way we need, whether it’s scoring, defending, making plays – I feel like I have a really good game, probably one of the best in the country. So I'm excited to see how we mesh together and are able to perform.”