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"Highlight ... I don't know," he says.
Sullinger's game is not just fundamentally sound. At times it is postfundamental. After Sunday's 82--69 win over Minnesota, he was averaging 10.3 rebounds per game, second in the nation among freshmen, but a lot of the time he doesn't even box out. "I couldn't tell you it's positioning," he says. "I just know where the ball is going to go." Fundamentally sound players secure the ball in the post before they try a move, but, Sullinger says, "there's times when I don't even focus on catching the basketball. When the ball hits my hands, my eye is on the middle of the floor to see where the double team is coming from." He seems to know what opponents will do before they do. One of these days Sullinger is going to get whistled for traveling through time.
Buckeyes coach Thad Matta was asked what opposing teams do that bothers Sullinger. He was stumped. "If they're doing something, he'll just go to the counter to it," he says. Matta has coached three top five NBA draft picks at Ohio State, including the No. 1 pick in 2007, Greg Oden, and last year's college player of the year, Evan Turner, who went No. 2. But he says Sullinger "is the best I've ever brought in here in terms of productivity."
At week's end Sullinger was scoring 18.0 points per game, but he could average 25 if he wanted. That also does not interest him. All he cares about is making the right play. Assistant coach Jeff Boals says Sullinger must lead the country in "hockey assists"—the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the score.
Then there is everything Sullinger doesn't do (besides dunk). He has only fouled out once in 24 games. He has only picked up four fouls two other times. He rarely complains about a call and doesn't like to let opponents see him frustrated. In this era of college basketball, elite teams usually rely on wise upperclassmen, or freshmen on their way to the NBA. What makes Sullinger special is that he is, in effect, both.
"He is making senior plays," Matta says. "I don't know if he's done something this year and I said, 'Well, he's a freshman.' Not once. Some of the things he does, I'm like, That wasn't in the game plan, but boy, that was the right move."
How did this happen? How did an 18-year-old arrive at his hometown school as a basketball maestro? You should know, Barbara. You were there.
James (Satch) Sullinger told everybody from the beginning: Jared will be the best player in the family. Better than Satch and Barbara's oldest son, J.J., an Ohio State guard from 2003 to '06. Better than the middle child, Julian, a forward at Kent State from 2005 to '09.
Satch knew there was something different about his third child when "I saw him come out of the womb, and when he started unfolding his hands, his fingers just kept coming. They just never stopped." But that isn't why Satch was so sure Jared would be the best. It was because Jared was last.
For his first four years, J.J. did not have to share his parents. He became the scorer, the most flamboyant one. Julian had to fight to establish his place in the family, and he became a scrapper. Julian played in the paint at Kent State despite being listed generously at 6'5".