Connecticut's Kemba Walker, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger lead our first National Player of the Year poll of the season
Ohio State coach Thad Matta remembers watching from the stands at an AAU national basketball tournament in Orlando when he realized how good Jared Sullinger could be.
Mainly because for three straight games, he played can-you-top-this with his future coach’s imagination.
“He had like 28 (points) and 19 (rebounds in the quarterfinals), and I’m like, ‘Man, he can’t play any better in the semifinals and then he got 32 and then I’m like ‘he can’t play any better,’” Matta said. Then he went into the championship game and had 36 and 22 or something.
“The big thing with him was getting him in college shape.”
That hasn’t been an issue for Sullinger.
Sullinger, the Ohio State freshman forward who plays at Michigan today (6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network), is second to Connecticut guard Kemba Walker in the first AnnArbor.com National Player of the Year poll released Wednesday
The results of the poll, which is taken anonymously of voters for the Wooden, Naismith, Associated Press and Oscar Robertson Awards, are below.
Sullinger averages 17.9 points and 10.3 rebounds a game and is the most dominant player in the Big Ten. He has been named the league’s Rookie of the Week eight times and already has three Big Ten Player of the Week awards.
“Well, I can tell you 10 coaches that wish it was the none-and-done rule,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “Because coming out of high school, he would have been playing somewhere. But since you have to at least go one year, physically, he’s a man.
“He’s above his age level as far as his strength, his coordination. Sometimes, big guys, we redshirted Brian Butch because physically he wasn’t ready. Sullinger, physically, was ready.”
Besides his physicality, what stands out to coaches the most is his understanding and patience within the game. Part of it may come from being the son of a coach — legendary Ohio high school coach at Northland in Columbus, Satch Sullinger — and part from playing basketball with his older brothers who were both Division I players.
He’s also a big reason Ohio State is undefeated and the No. 2 team in the country.
“The big thing in this day and age, there’s so few big guys who want to play inside,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “We have the European style big man now that want to go out and shoot three’s.
“He knows what he is and he uses his body, seals well, is strong, knows what he can do and he’s very good at it, too. Doesn’t try to do other things. To me, that’s the biggest thing.”
- The 55 ballots are the most in the three-year history of the poll.
- In a sign of turnover from one year to the next in college basketball, only one player in this year’s first poll, Jimmer Fredette, was in last year’s final poll.
- Five conferences split up the 13 players: Big Ten, Big East, ACC, Mountain West and Ohio Valley. Every league but the Ohio Valley had multiple players listed.
- Two teams — Duke and Purdue — had two players named.