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"To me, that's an item," he says. "An experience is an item."
Forget the spoils. To the victor goes the victory.
"I consider myself a winner," Sullinger says, and this is as close as he will come to bragging in public. It is also the only way he measures success. For now, the Sullingers have tabled the discussion of Jared's leaving for the NBA after this season. He is trying to lead Ohio State to a national championship, and everything in his experience makes him believe he can do it.
Sullinger's Northland teams went 95--4. His last three AAU teams went 201--9. Ohio State is 24--0. Add that all up, and he has won 96.1% of his games.
Sullinger will be a lottery pick whenever he leaves Ohio State. But NBA scouts are not in love with him the way they fell in love with Griffin or Oden. They question his athleticism. They wonder if his shot will get blocked too much—all those layups are fine against college kids, but what will Dwight Howard do with them?
The people who know him best aren't concerned. They say he has a better perimeter game than people realize—he just hasn't needed it at Ohio State. He has always learned to do whatever was necessary on the court, always been two steps ahead. These days college teams try to force him to his left hand, and even though he is just a freshman, they are already too late. He added a lefthanded jump hook last summer, before he needed it.
No, what worries the people who love him is not the game of pro basketball. It is the business of it. "He'll be a commodity," his mother says. They wonder what will happen when a young man with such a virtuous approach to basketball joins a league with so many agendas.
"He won't understand why somebody is not going to be his friend," says J.J., now a Columbus real estate agent. "He won't understand why somebody will refuse to pass him the ball. He won't understand why somebody will refuse to play hard, or why a team refuses to try to win. Jared only knows one way to play. He only knows how to win. All that other stuff, the extra, is what I worry about."
And yet ... Jared Sullinger has been playing the game the way he lives his life for years. Surely, he can find a way to live an NBA life the way he plays the game: unselfishly, without excess.
His mom says she doesn't get to talk to him as much as she would like these days. But she asked him recently, "Jared, are you happy?" And Jared the jokester said no, he was not happy, because his girlfriend was being mean to him.