Sullinger finds groove after talks with Stevens, father

Sullinger finds groove after talks with Stevens, father
February 3, 2014, 9:00 am
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BOSTON - There is a saying: Age is just a number.

That was partially the message Brad Stevens had for Jared Sullinger a few days ago when he challenged Celtics sophomore Jared Sullinger to, in a way, be more than what most 21-year-olds are in the NBA.

Sullinger was in a bit of a slump prior to the meeting with Stevens. He had scored a total of 16 points and grabbed a total of 12 rebounds  in three straight losses to the Thunder, Nets, and Knicks. But he has 45 points and 29 rebounds in the two games since the meeting.

On Sunday, he scored 21 points on 10-15 shooting, and grabbed 12 rebounds. He also hit a big three-pointer late in the fourth quarter.

“I’m just playing hard honestly, just understanding that I have a bigger role than I had last year," Sullinger said. "I'm pretty much playing hard.”

That bigger role is exactly what Stevens was talking about to Sullinger. It's rare for a young player to have such a big role this early in his career. Stevens wants Sullinger to take advantage of that.

It seems like Sullinger got that message loud and clear. Stevens reiterated on Sunday after the game.

"I think people use youth as a crutch to say it's OK to be inconsistent, or whatever the case may be," Stevens said. "I'm not saying he has been. I'm just saying in general. But this is a situation where youth should have great opportunity. And now they get a chance to separate themselves from other guys their age. As a result, Jared ends up in the Rising Stars Challenge on the sophomore team. Kelly ends up on the rookie team. They've got great opportunity to take advantage of. Hopefully a lot of our young guys can take advantage of that because they're going to play."

Stevens wasn't the only person Sullinger heard from during his slump. He also got an earful from his "three fathers" - his actual father, Satch, and two brothers, Julian and Jay.

So what did his father have to say?

“Pretty much just telling me, he said my body language sucked and my attitude sucked," Sullinger said. "And he said that’s not what got you here, and he pretty much tried to whoop me back to shape, as my other two fathers did, Julian as in my brother and Jay as in my brother as well.

Sullinger then said rather sarcastically, "I was fortunate to have three fathers in my life, technically, according to them.”

He's taking on these new challenges with an injured hand, too. It doesn't appear to be an injury that's going away anytime soon, and Sullinger isn't the type of player to miss games because of it. Instead, he's adapting to it.

I just learn how to adjust to it but it took me a couple games obviously. Last game I shot 9-25. I just got in the gym and learned how to shoot. I figured if my finger was always pointing towards the basket. Just learn.”

And that time in the gym is not going unnoticed by his teammates. Avery Bradley pointed out that Sullinger is always working on his game. He also gave Sullinger, who ranks 11th in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game (3.2), some high praise.

"He's a very good player," Bradley said. "To me he's the best offensive rebounder in the NBA. But he just plays hard on both ends of the floor. Like I said we have a lot of players on our team that are just continuing to get better because they put in the work and it shows in the game. Jared is in the gym every single day working on his game."