The problem with watching Ohio State freshman forward Jared Sullinger is that people expect Shaq and miss Mozart. Sullinger is 6'9" and 280 pounds and dominates with his big, powerful ... brain. Some players have to be seen to be believed. Sullinger must be believed before he can be seen, otherwise you'll miss the subtle genius that makes him great. Heck, you can see Sullinger and his unbeaten Buckeyes and not realize you are watching the best player on the No. 1 team in the country—even if you happen to be his mother.
"People keep saying that to me, and I really don't see it," Barbara Sullinger says. "I think he's a good basketball player. But the best freshman in the nation? I don't see it that way."
It's O.K., Barbara. You are not supposed to see him play all the notes. Just listen for the symphony. Often the Ohio State coaches don't appreciate how well Sullinger played until they watch the game tape.
There is Sullinger, passing out of the double team before there even is a double team. There he is, taking a quick dribble to get a better angle for his boring but dependable jump hook. There he is, stopping immediately when the whistle blows instead of finishing a play that won't count because he wants to save his energy for the end of the game. There he is, sprinting down the floor at the end of the game, in perfect position for a dunk that could crack your TV screen. There he is, turning down that dunk for a layup.
This is another problem with watching Sullinger. Dunking does not interest him. Oh, sure, he'll dunk when it's necessary, and he admits that "every now and then you like to see an interesting dunk with people like Blake Griffin and Josh Smith and LeBron James," but he sounds as if he is talking about a different sport. He taught himself to windmill jam at 14, but only because people kept asking him to show off a dunk. He doesn't like to do it. ("You have to catch me on a good day," he says.)
Ask him to name his favorite play of his career. It's like asking a vegetarian to choose between Five Guys and In-N-Out Burger.
"Play?" Jared says. "Um... ."
Well, what was your favorite highlight?
You know: highlight.