Ohio State prize basketball recruits Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas
have become fast friends. They text. They joke around. They talk about
their future as Ohio State front court players all the time. They talk
about their futures as hopeful NBA lottery picks. They also talk about
girls, school and life in general. Saturday that friendship will be put on hold…
Ohio State prize basketball recruits Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas have become fast friends. They text. They joke around. They talk about their future as Ohio State front court players all the time. They talk about their futures as hopeful NBA lottery picks. They also talk about girls, school and life in general.
But on Saturday, they will halt their talking for a two-hour period when Sullinger’s No. 1 ranked team in the nation, Northland, faces off against Thomas’ Bishop Luers (Ind.) squad in game six of the Ohio Scholastic Play by Play Classic at the Schottenstein Center on Saturday.
“I am so excited,” said Thomas. “I made my commitment as a freshman to come to Ohio State, and now to play on that floor against Jared, the number one player in the country, and the number-one ranked team in the country, you can’t ask for anything better than that.”
Thomas said his heart has been pounding all week in anticipation of the trip from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Columbus. He is proud of his friend Jared as well as the Vikings wins over Findlay Prep (NV) and Oak Hill Academy (VA). But at the same time, Thomas will put the friendship aside to try and upset the Vikings. Thomas is averaging 32 points a game and is considered one of the five best players in the country. Sullinger (22 pts, 15 reb, 5 blocks) is ranked the No. 1 player and scored 37 points with 34 rebounds in 2 wins over national powers Oak Hill Academy and Findlay Prep.
“He’s just a great player,” said Thomas of Sullinger. “He’s so strong and plays big in the big moments. Look what he did against those two nationally ranked teams on TV. He’s going to try and win, and so are me and my teammates. I can’t wait.”
Thomas is also looking forward to seeing fellow Ohio State commits J.D. Weatherspoon (18 ppg), Sullinger’s terrific teammate, and Jordan Sibert (22 ppg) from Cincinnati Princeton (who plays Benedictine in the 8:30 game following Northland-Luers at 7 p.m.).
“We actually call ourselves the Super 6,” said Thomas of Ohio State’s incoming recruiting class. “But on Saturday, it’s the beginning of a dream come true to play at Ohio State.”
Sullinger has played several games on the Buckeyes floor, including wins over Aiken last January and in the Division I state title game against Sibert and Princeton last March. He never takes it for granted.
“I am so excited for this opportunity,” Sullinger said. “We have had some incredible opportunities this year already, and this is another. I have always wanted to play here at Ohio State since my brother JJ played here. After JJ lost to Georgetown in his last game at Ohio State, we met at half-court, and he hugged me, and he was crying, and he told me ‘If [Ohio State] offers you a scholarship, you should take it, because I thank God that he put [Ohio State Coach Thad] Matta into my eyes, and he made me see a lot of things that I hadn’t seen before. When he said that, that really persuaded me a lot. I have always felt blessed to play here every opportunity since then.”
Sullinger added that playing against friend Thomas and Luers will be another great challenge but they will play with the same philosophy they have all season.
“We have to bring it because everybody is trying to play their best game against us,” Sullinger said. “My teammates helped me achieve a lot of wins and accolades. I expect us to have another great team effort on Saturday.”
Sibert and Weatherspoon said they are also excited about playing on their future college court.
“It’s starting to feel like home,” said Sibert. “I will be ready to go out and perform in front of my future fans. I think it is incredible that four of us will be playing here all in one day. My team is actually coming up early to see Jared, JD and DeShaun play.”
Sibert is still reminiscent of the close loss Princeton suffered in the championship game against Northland lat season.
“I think that loss helped us a lot,” Sibert said. “We understand the sacrifice now and we understand it’s the little things that helps you win big games.”
Ohio State hoop fans expressed great concern when Sibert suffered a terrible leg injury in the summer. But Sibert is back averaging over 20 points and 8 rebounds and Princeton is 10-2 playing a national schedule this year.
“I’m about 93.25 % back,” Sibert said. “My goal is to be 110 percent by February. But I’m back playing with no complaints so I can say I am truly blessed. As for the team, I believe we can make it back, even win it all. The only thing that can stop us is us. If we come out with a mindset of great focus and hunger, we will be back.”
Andrews is already impressed by the leadership Sibert has shown in his first three years at Princeton, and expects “[Sibert’s] game to expand this year, mostly in the areas of leadership, getting this team where they should go. He is the consummate team player and he really is an all-around player that we look for to do some really special things this year.”
Northland coach Satch Sullinger, too, is excited to take on the Knights in the Ohio State Classic.
“Playing at the Ohio State University…with good competition, it’s going to be a great game, and good for the game of basketball in general,” Sullinger said. “We have been looking forward to this game with Bishop Luers for some time. We have been in this event for three years now and its one of the best in the country. The line-up for the day is incredible.”
Added Jared, “We want to win. It’s going to be a bragging rights game for when we get to Ohio State. It’s just going to be a fun game to play in.”
But Thomas, a left-handed shooter with a pure stroke, will do everything in his power to ensure that it is he who can brag when the two future teammates take the court at Ohio State. The 6-foot-7 lefty forward has amassed over 2,200 points in his first three high school seasons, and should he continue to average over 30 points per game this year, the all-time Indiana high school scoring record held by Damon Bailey is in sight.
“That would be amazing,” Thomas said. “It’s hard to believe I have passed guys like Larry Bird and Rick Mount.”
Bishop Luers’ coach James Blackmon knew that Thomas would step up to be a leader for the Knights, who graduated five seniors last year.
“It is important that he has stepped up and lead by example and shows a lot of leadership, because there are a lot of younger guys looking up [to him],” Blackmon said “As far as his practice approach, teams get better when you practice hard, and when you have your best player on the floor practicing hard, that can get contagious.”
So how did OSU land a star from Indiana? Well, Thomas played for the Spice Indy Heat AAU program that boasted OSU stars and current NBAers Daqeuan Cook, Greg Oden, and Mike Conley, the latter two who were also from Indiana.
“Plus, the school has always felt like home,” he said. “I love the facility, the fans, it’s a Big 10 school. I was always treated like family there on my visits.”
The Ohio State Classic will feature 5 other great matchups.
Division II 2009 runner-up Logan Elm (9-0) is tipping off against Westerville South (9-0), a 16-win team one year ago. Westerville South is led by Traveon Jackson, OSU legend and NBA player Jimmy’s son.
DeSales (10-0) is matched with Wilmington (9-3), who has Jordan Berlin and Quentin Rollins (Miami of Ohio).
Chillicothe (8-3) plays Canton Timken (9-1).
Jackson (9-1) plays Wayne (11-1).
Harvest Prep (8-2) faces off with Michigan state signee Adrein Payne and Dayton Jefferson.
Then at night are the Luers-Northland and Benedictine (Pitt signee Cameron Wright and Central Michigan signee Derek Jackson) and Princeton match-ups.
“From top to bottom this may be the most talent we have seen in this event,” said Jon Stovall of Ohio’s Prep Spotlight. “Columbus is where you want to be on January 23.”
Especially if you are a Buckeye fan.
For a complete rundown of games and events, go to playbyplayclassics.com. Tickets will be available on line.
Student tickets are just $10.