BOSTON — Jared Sullinger was well on his way to establishing himself as one of the NBA's brightest rookies last season.
Still, the route he anticipated taking changed dramatically, almost a year to the day.
On Jan. 30 last year, Sullinger felt a twinge in his back that eventually led to season-ending surgery which raised many questions about his future.
Fast forward to now. Sullinger has not only recovered, but established himself as one of the league's brightest young big men.
And for his effort, he has been named to the NBA's 18-man Rising Stars Challenge team, along with teammate Kelly Olynyk. Sullinger will be among the second-year players and teammate Olynyk the rookies when they play on Feb. 14 at NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.
"It's a blessing, especially after last year," Sullinger told CSNNE.com. "It's pretty cool."
When Sullinger was lost for the season after 45 games last season, there were many who felt validated in seeing him slide on draft night to the Celtics all the way to No. 21. Most mock drafts leading up to the draft had him among the top-14 (lottery) picks.
After months of rehabilitation, Sullinger returned to the Celtics lineup and has gradually improved as the season progressed.
The 6-foot-9 forward is the Celtics' leading rebounder, with 7.6 rebounds per game to go along with 12.5 points.
Jared's father, Satch Sullinger, was at the game Wednesday against the Sixers.
He recalled how devastating his son's injury was after what was shaping up to be a special rookie season.
"His rookie year, playing for and then ending up starting for a coach [Doc Rivers, now with the Los Angeles Clippers] who is one of the best in the NBA that never plays rookies, and going to an injury that ends his season, and then losing KG and Pierce [both traded to Brooklyn] and Doc and then to come back and fall into a sophomore ... there was a whole lot thrown on his plate," Satch Sullinger told CSNNE.com. "And I'm proud of the mental adjustment he has making. He's learning the professional side of it."
Despite being in just his second season, Sullinger is looked upon as one of the team's veterans, not only because of his experience, but because of his willingness to be more of a leader.
"That's the Sullinger way," Satch Sullinger said. "No. Seriously. We call it the Sullinger way. It's being a cut above the environment you're in, in a positive way. Always being purposeful. Being part of the solution, not part of the problem."