For Sullinger, it's all in the family

For Sullinger, it's all in the family
March 28, 2014, 9:45 am
Share This Post

BOSTON -- Julian Sullinger hears the critics who question his brother Jared's desire to shoot 3s and can only chuckle and do what big brothers do all the time - toss out a zinger at baby bro's expense.

"We'll when he was a kid, he wanted to be a 500-pound guard. What you expect?" quipped Julian who is now an assistant men's basketball coach at Tiffin University in Ohio.

The ear-to-ear smile comes across smooth and easy when Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger hears this, a reminder of how no matter how old he gets or how long he's in the NBA, he's going to be the butt of his big brothers' jokes from time to time.

But he takes all the verbal barbs in stride which speaks to the teflon-tight bond that exists with this family led by Momma (Barbara) and Pops (Satch) Sullinger, a bond that has been critical to Jared Sullinger's journey from Columbus, Ohio to where he's at now, a key player for the Boston Celtics.

"They made me who I am today," Sullinger told CSNNE.com in an interview recently. "My mother, father, my brothers ... without them, none of this would be possible. I owe so much of what I'm doing now, to them."

THE EARLY YEARS

As the youngest member of the Sullinger clan, there was always something new, something exciting for Jared to learn.

Especially from his father Satch Sullinger, a long-time high school coach at Northland High School in Columbus, Ohio where he was named national coach of the year in 2010.

"We kind of believe that in the Sullinger household, that you play the game the way you live your life," Satch Sullinger said in a wide-ranging interview with Comcast SportsNet. "That's all they've heard, and the guys that have played for me, that's all they've heard. And it's true. I mean, you know, if we practice to get better, and I'm practicing two hours of accountability and 22 hours of not being accountable, the 22 hours are gonna kick the two hours in the butt."

Satch Sullinger added, "so you know, it's more my method of coaching and raising my sons, that accountability and doing the things you're supposed to do. You know we had a simple rule on my team. It was be where you're supposed to when you're supposed to be there, doing what you're supposed to do. If you can say yes to all those three things, then you don't have a problem."

And when his players didn't do that, there was a price to be paid – even if that player was his own son.

During Jared Sullinger's sophomore year, he didn't complete some schoolwork prior to a district semifinal game against Westerville South. So Satch suspended him and they lost the game, robbing the team's seniors of the opportunity to close out their high school careers in style.

Jared Sullinger still regrets that situation to this day, but the lesson learned does take away some of the sting that still remains.

It would serve as one of the components of what is known as the "Sullinger way."

"The Sullinger way is that we are a cut above the environment we're in because we choose to be," said Satch Sullinger. "Not that we're better than anyone. It's easy to separate yourself from the masses in a negative way, but the Sullinger way is to separate yourself in a positive way. I guess it always boils down to we always want to be part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

He added, "Sitting around and complaining is simply you know, describing the water as you drown. What good is it? If you don't like what's going on, then how can we change it? What methods do we go about to change it? You want a better team? I can't make someone else a better player, but the moment I focus on myself and become a better teammate, I've already made us a better team."

Jared Sullinger admits that "the Sullinger way" has been critical for him in dealing with what has been the most difficult season in terms of wins and losses, that he has ever had.

The Celtics (23-48) will fail to make the playoffs this year for the first time since 2007.

"If you go from my eighth grade year up to the end of my sophomore year of college, I've lost more games this year than those years combined," Jared Sullinger said. "It's tough, really tough."

And the 22-year-old readily admits he has had his share of bumps along the way. Earlier this season, he was struggling with his shot and was on track to miss games for picking up too many flagrant fouls.

Satch Sullinger, who frequently visits Boston to see his son play, was watching this play out from his Columbus, Ohio home.

He knew Jared wasn't himself. And to get this fixed, a simple phone call or text message would not suffice.

"I had to let him know that he was important to me, and I had to let him know that his skill level hadn't diminished," said Satch Sullinger. "What I saw at home was, I saw my son feel like he had no control over things and he was acting out with the flagrant fouls and his body posture and his facial attitude ..."

Players often talk about the space on the floor as being real estate, with the most talented laying claim to the most land.

"The most important inches on the floor are the six between your ears," Satch Sullinger recalled telling Jared. "And going into a second year, this is where he needs to grow."

And he has.

Probably not as smoothly as he would have liked but there is no mistaking the improvement in Jared Sullinger's game both on and off the court this season as he becomes more of a team leader.

"He's got the ability to play," Satch Sullinger said. "That will take care of itself. To become a veteran, I told him it's not how many years you've played in the league. It's your ability to handle the obstacles and frustrations within the league. When you learn how to handle all those things and control your attitude and your effort, I said, then, and only then, will you become a veteran."

It all made sense to Jared Sullinger, although he didn't immediately embrace his father's words.

"We don't agree all the time; at all," Jared Sullinger stressed. "But sometimes it takes me two or three days later, I'll shoot him a text or shoot him a phone call and say he's right. That's pretty much what happened when he came up here. We were in my room and he told me what he feels and everything he said. I kind of was like whatever, but I was still listening. About two days later I shot him a text. I think he was working out or something or I was at the gym. I shoot him a text, 'you're right.' And ever since then, I just let everything go."

Sullinger has emerged as one of the Celtics' best players, averaging a team-high 8.2 rebounds per game along with 13 points.

As important as his father's teachings were, the true ruler in the Sullinger household is his mother Barbara.

"My mom balances everything out," said Jared. "She's superwoman of the household. She's the only person that can tell us to shut up and we'll shut up. She's the boss. And she's the smallest one. But she controls everything."

When the boys went across the street to a place known as The Court, they would play on the blacktop for hours non-stop; that is until they heard Barbara's whistle.

"When you hear that whistle, it's time to go," Julian said.

He added, "The thing about my mother, she was so strong in a house full of men. She always stood her ground. The thing about my mom is, she didn't show her emotions really. She's very compassionate with her sons and my father and loving in that aspect, but she always stood strong throughout every moment in our life. That helped us out so much."

Embracing the lessons from his mother came much easier for Jared Sullinger than those delivered by his father.

"He didn't know how to say things without yelling," said Jared. "And I didn't know how to listen to what he was saying instead of how he was saying it. So now I'm able to tune out the ... yelling. But at the same time he's teaching me ... that's the only way he knows how to teach."

Said Satch: "He called it yelling, and I call it enthusiasm. When I'm talking with my sons, I really get excited. And they'll say 'man, you yelling.' I say, 'I'm not yelling.' They say, You are,' I say, 'I'm not!'"


COMING OF AGE

In his second NBA season with the Celtics, Sullinger has emerged as one of the team's leaders this season.

"He's definitely a guy that me and the young guys, the rookies, look up to," Phil Pressey told CSNNE.com. "He's a good player, good dude, just a good teammate."

Sullinger has already won over one of the Celtics' toughest critics, Rajon Rondo. Following Boston's 99-90 loss to Toronto, Rondo talked about how much he likes to play with Sullinger.

"I told Brad (Stevens) I want to play with Sully as much as possible," Rondo said.

Take a number, Rondo.

There are quite a few current Celtics who enjoy playing with the 6-foot-9 forward/center.

For Satch Sullinger, seeing his son's growth as a leader makes all those long nights and days of talking about this, that and the other, worthwhile.

And while those conversations will continue to change in time, Satch Sullinger can't envision a day when he won't be giving his son some form of advice.

"As his father," said Satch Sullinger with Jared seated next to him, "and I told him this (earlier), I want you to know one thing. I am so proud of your progress. You're ahead of the curve. I want you to know that you've developed into everything that I've imagined for you. As your dad, my job is to keep reaching and keep nurturing."

Which is why their relationship isn't just father and son, or coach and player.

They're the best of friends, too.

"It's been tough at times but he's a good guy," Jared Sullinger said of his father. "He's a good friend of mine. He's my father.”