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July 9, 2012

Sullinger shines in pro debut

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

Moments after making his professional debut, former Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger was asked what the misunderstood part of his game was.

"I can play," Sullinger said with a matter of fact tone in his voice.

That may seem obvious, considering the accolades that the two-time All-American racked up during his two year career. But after a draft process that saw the Columbus native drop from out of the lottery and to the Boston Celtics at the No. 21 pick, many critics found themselves asking whether or not Sullinger was just another college star destined to flop at the professional level.

And although his professional debut came in the NBA's summer league, which is typically reserved for rookies, reserves, and free agents trying to make a roster, his first game as a member of the green and white can't be viewed as anything but a positive for Sullinger's prospects as a pro.

Coming off the bench and playing in 24 minutes (summer league games are comprised of four, 10-minute quarters), the 6-foot-9 forward led all scorers with 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting, pulled down six rebounds, and recorded one assist and one block while committing just one turnover in the Celtics' 73-65 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. After the game, Sullinger was clearly pleased with how his debut went.

"I can handle the ball. I can pass the ball. I can shoot the ball," Sullinger said. "A lot of people don't understand that. Everybody thinks I'm overweight, so I'm just trying to prove everybody wrong."

Wearing a green No. 7 Celtics practice jersey, the 2011 Big Ten Freshman on the Year managed to get to the free throw line consistently, knocking down all seven of his free throw attempts on Monday. Sullinger also found multiple ways to score, showcasing a number of post moves and even stepping outside the arc to knock down a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps the highlight of Sullinger's debut in Orlando came late in the third quarter, when the former Buckeye big man dribbled across the lane before banking in a sweeping hook shot. After the game, he credited Buckeyes assistant coach Chris Jent with helping him develop the move.

"That was all Chris Jent. We've been working on that forever," Sullinger said. "He told me just to elevate and put some air under it. I put a little bit too much air under it and it went off the glass. I have to thank Chris Jent for that one."

Less than two weeks removed from seeing his draft stock nearly plummet, the 265-pound Sullinger seems to be in good spirits and is embracing playing for one of the historic franchises in the NBA.

"Second place means nothing in that city. You got to win," Sullinger said of Boston. "The fans are great, but you have to win. If you come in second, that doesn't mean nothing."

Sullinger and the Celtics' summer league team will return to action on Tuesday night, when they'll face the Brooklyn Nets at 5 p.m.



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