JJ Sullinger Q + A
On Ohio State basketball, and his youngest brother Jared.
by Brendan Bowers / @StepienRules
Jared Sullinger was ten years old when he first watched his oldest brother JJ take the floor wearing the Scarlet and Gray of their hometown Ohio State hoops squad. Eight years later, it’s the little kid who used to follow JJ around from theplayground to the hardwood who’s now put his name on college basketball’s marquee wearing those same colors.
JJ and the rest of the Sullinger family are front row for the show these days in Columbus, and they couldn’t be more proud. Coming off Ohio State’s recent beat down of 12th ranked Purdue, 87-64, I had a chance to catch up with the former Buckeye and talk all about it.
SLAM: You started your college career at Arkansas before playing your final three seasons (2003-06) as a Buckeye at Ohio State, what went into your decision to come home to Columbus back then?
JJ Sullinger: When I originally chose and went to Arkansas, Nolan Richardson was a big part of that reason. When he got fired, I just felt like that wasn’t the place for me anymore, and decided to look elsewhere.
In my heart I always was a Buckeye, and I even wore the Block O at Arkansas. Most people thought it was the number zero on my jersey, but I wore the block O to represent Ohio.
So when Jim O’Brien offered me a scholarship to come back home, I didn’t even second guess it, I never thought twice about it and the rest is history.
SLAM: How would you describe your overall experience at Ohio State, and then eventually playing for Thad Matta specifically?
JJ: My overall experience at Ohio State is exactly what everyone has experienced, it was great, it was awesome. I enjoyed myself, made lifelong friends, and got to play some good basketball over the years.
I didn’t have the greatest experience with the first coaching staff, but when Coach Matta came in he absolutely resurrected the dead to be honest. He did wonders, he made me a believer, and for that I’ll always be appreciative.
SLAM: Would you say your decision to come back home to play three seasons in Columbus had an impact on Jared’s development, that maybe he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience had you played out your career down in the SEC as a Razorback?
JJ: Absolutely. When I was at OSU, I was so close to home Jared was always in the gym with me. He’d always come to practice with me, during the summer months he’d come work out with me, open gyms he was always there, and during the summer time pros would come back and play too. So Jared would be there with me playing against professionals and college athletes since he was about 13 or 14 years old, and that was absolutely a plus for him.
Then as far as me being at Ohio State and him seeing his oldest brother suit up every night in the Scarlet and Gray, that had an impact too. He idolized me growing up, we’re ten years apart so when I was 22 he was only 12 years old, and that was definitely something he was able to really see and know he wanted to be a part of from a young age.
SLAM: You played professionally overseas after OSU in the Philippines and Poland, right? What were those experiences like for you?
JJ: I did play in the Philippines and I played in Poland, but I also made a number of other stops throughout my pro career as well. I played in Belgium with my former teammate Ron Lewis, and from there I went on to Mexico, then I went back to the Philippines. In my last stint, I went to Austria and then to China, and it was in China that I tore my ACL, and I’m rehabbing that right now.
Playing overseas though was an experience that cannot be duplicated. Everyone travels, people work overseas, and do things like that, but the opportunity to come into a culture that is unknown and to leave as one of their own, it’s a great experience. It’s the best experience that I have ever had as far as basketball is concerned.
SLAM: Throughout your career, what are some things that you’ve learned beyond the court that you’ve tried to share with your younger brother Jared?
JJ: What I’ve tried to reinforce with him is something that our father taught us early on, and it really has nothing to do with basketball specifically.
And that is that the only two things you have control over are your attitude and effort. Attitude and effort are the two things you have control over, and they are the only two things you need to concern yourself with.
If you can always focus on being successful in those two areas, you will be successful in life. That’s something as an older brother that I’ve tried to help instill in Jared, and it’s something that throughout our whole family we take pride in.
SLAM: What’s it like for you now, years later with those roles reversed, to watch Jared suit up in the Scarlet and Gray every night?
JJ: As a big brother it’s great, it’s awesome to see, because you see a part of you in him. Not to take anything away from Jared and his work ethic, but our brother Julian [who played four years at Kent State University from 2005-2009] and I kind of molded him into the player he is today.
Jared idolized Julian as well, and wanted to follow in his footsteps at Northland.
So when you see him shoot a fade away jumpshot, he’s right handed and I’m left handed but it’s pretty much the same jumpshot as mine. When you see him bulldoze somebody in the paint, that’s absolutely what you’d see Julian do.
So he kind of took my game, and Julian’s game, and his own game, blended the three, and then he perfected it.