Sullinger Named Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year
By Brandon Castel
Jared Sullinger could not attend the Big Ten Men's Basketball Media Day in Chicago Thursday because of obligations in the classroom. He probably saved himself a few scowls.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The media tabbed Ohio State’s star sophomore as the Preseason Player of the Year in the Big Ten, beating out Michigan State’s Draymond Green, Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe, Purdue’s Robbie Hummel and Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor.
Sullinger and the Buckeyes were also picked by the media as the preseason favorites to win the Big Ten again in 2011-12. Thad Matta’s team went 34-3 a year ago while claiming the regular season and tournament titles en route to the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“Obviously I'm very proud of what this program has been able to achieve over the course of seven years,” said Matta, who has led Ohio State to seven-consecutive 20-plus-win seasons.
“We've been blessed to have some terrific players. And the hard part I think in my mind is getting guys.”
Matta has proven himself capable of not just getting ‘guys’ but getting ‘the guy’ whether that be Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Evan Turner or Sullinger. The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year and National Freshman of the Year averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game as a rookie last season.
He would likely have been a top-5 pick in the NBA Draft after one season of college basketball, but Sullinger had other plans before he even got to Ohio State.
“Jared had told me a year ago last summer that he was going to be here for at least two years,” Matta said Thursday.
“And so there was no shock and awe in my mind when he announced that he was coming back.”
It certainly shocked others, but Sullinger felt he had plenty to work on before his game was going to be ready to play at a high level in the NBA. He dropped 25 pounds in the off-season and worked on the other parts of his game that will allow him to impose himself on defenses rather than allowing them to dictate what he is going to be able to do.
“The thing we talked to him through the preseason going through the rigors of the Big Ten, if we can move him around a little more, they won't be able to beat on him as much,” Matta said.
“Along with that he's taken to improving his ball handling, improving his outside shooting. And I think more of a complete player, more of a power forward with a touch of skill.”
That could make Sullinger not only the favorite for Player of the Year in the Big Ten, but also for the Naismith Award, which went to Brigham Young guard Jimmer Fredette a year ago.
The Buckeyes will have to replace a trio of seniors in David Lighty, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale, but they were picked as the preseason favorites to win the conference for the first time since 2006-07.
Wisconsin was picked to finish second in the Big Ten by the media and Tom Izzo’s Michigan State was tabbed as the No. 3 team in the conference. The Badgers return only two starters from last year’s Sweet 16 team, but one of them is Jordan Taylor.
The senior point guard averaged 18.1 points, 4.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game a season ago.
The Spartans also return two starters from last season, including senior forward Draymond Green, who averaged 12.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game last season.
The No. 3-ranked Buckeyes open the regular season Nov. 11 against Wright State. They play No. 10 Florida, No. 6 Duke and No. 13 Kansas in the non-conference schedule before opening Big Ten play against Northwestern on Dec. 28.
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