Danny Ainge may be giving the players some time away from basketball, but we are calling every player on the roster into our Celtics Town offices for their exit interviews for the rest of this week. Here’s the fifth in the series: Jared Sullinger.
As the draft approached I became increasingly certain you would be a Boston Celtic. Your medically flagged back had caused you to fall out of the lottery, and with consecutive picks late in the first round I knew the Celtics could take a chance on you that other teams couldn’t. When you were selected with the 21st pick I quietly fist-pumped to myself, not knowing at the time that the very same back injury that had caused you to drop out of the lottery would be the same one that would end your season. At the time you took it all in stride saying, “If you consider me landing to the Boston Celtics a drop then I’ll do it all over again without a hesitation.”
You could have come to Boston with an ego and a chip on your shoulder, but instead you were defined by your unselfishness. In summer league there were times when you were clearly the best player on the floor, but instead you chose to play within yourself and focus on keeping your teammates involved. That willingness to fulfill a role would become the key to your success in your rookie season.
In training camp you quickly earned the respect of your teammates and the coaching staff with your tireless work ethic and high basketball IQ. Kevin Garnett took you under his wing and you were an eager and attentive pupil. And it paid off, so much so that Doc Rivers was reluctant to start you not because you hadn’t earned it, but because you were being relied upon to anchor the defense and shoulder the rebounding load while Garnett was on the bench. Your skill at the latter is remarkable, you finished the season with the second best rebounding percentage on the Celtics, trailing only Shavlik Randolph but having a significantly bigger sample size. Your approach to the boards encompasses who you are as a player, a perfect marriage of intellect and grit.
You were easily one of my favorite Celtics this season. I spent the first few months of the season alternating between complaining that you weren’t starting and complaining that the refs were out to get you (I’m convinced that only about half of your 6.2 fouls per 36 were legitimate). I was nearly inconsolable when your back, the very same back that was the only reason the Celtics had the opportunity to draft you in the first place, robbed you of the second half of your rookie season just as you had cracked the starting lineup. Part of me thinks that the Celtics could have scraped and clawed their way into the second round if you were still playing. In fact, with all the brick laying the C’s were doing and your nose for the offensive boards you might have lead the team in scoring. The other part of me is happy that you’ll (hopefully) be able to put this injury behind you. That you’ll be able to fully extend your legs when you sit down again. That you’ll be able to play without needing an epidural for the pain.
But all of me is eagerly anticipating your future, and for a player with your work ethic and intelligence the future is bright. The longer the C’s are off the court the more I can’t wait to see you back on it, and I know when I see you grab that first board in the season opener I’ll be quietly fist-pumping once again.
Follow Jordan on Twitter: @HiggsOnHoops