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Father’s Tough Love Turned Around Sullinger’s Season

Jared Sullinger’s body language and attitude haven’t been great at times this season. Well, to his father, that was disrespecting the family name and he showed up in Boston to put his son in his place.

Jessica Camerato



It’s not unusual for Satch Sullinger to travel to Boston to watch his son play for the Celtics. Over the past two seasons he has become a familiar face around TD Garden, often coming to town for long home stands at a time. When Satch decided to visit Jared in late January, the 21-year-old thought his dad was coming to check in on him. Turns out Satch was traveling to put him in check.

Satch didn’t like what he had been seeing during games. The attitude, the expressions, they were not up to the standard he had set for his children when it comes to professionalism. Just weeks after leaving from a month-long stay, he returned to Massachusetts to let his displeasure be known.

“He came up and cussed me out,” Jared Sullinger told Basketball Insiders of his father. “I was thinking he had to tell me something or he wanted me to talk about how everything was going because he seemed worried about me. But instead the conversation just started off – well, his conversation started off – and I was just saying, ‘Yes sir. Yes sir. Yes sir.’ I was kind of in shock. He was telling me my body language sucks, my attitude sucks, I’m disrespecting the Sullinger name the way I’m acting on and off the court, and when he says off the court he means on the bench.”

Satch’s fire is fueled by the fact his family is deeply rooted in basketball. Satch is a former coach, which included coaching Jared in high school. Older sons J.J. and Julian competed at high levels, but Jared was the only one to make it to the NBA. Yet when Jared was drafted by the Celtics with the 21st pick in 2013 out of The Ohio State University, Satch wasn’t about to let up. He may have retired from coaching, but he never quit the game.

He has expectations of how his son should carry himself. No complaining, no sulking, no moping. The NBA is a job, act like a professional at all times. Satch felt Jared needed a reminder of that. Jared, however, was not so receptive upon hearing it. Voices were raised and tempers rose. Hours passed without resolution.

“Very strong words from my father,” Jared said. “It was a heated argument at first. Then around, I’d say, four hours later after I slammed my door and kicked him out of my room and made him go to his room, I realized that I was wrong and he was right. I just apologized and told him I’m sorry, he’s right and I never meant to disrespect the family name.”

It wasn’t easy to admit initially, but Jared knew his father’s criticisms were warranted. For the entire month of January he had been letting distractions get in the way of his performances. He held on to sources of malcontent, letting them linger for days without brushing aside the unhappiness. Flagrant fouls were called, his shooting percentages dropped. That combined with nagging hand injuries led to a version of himself Jared didn’t like watching – nor did his father.

Satch was never lax on Jared growing up. If Jared wanted to play with his brothers, he had to hold his own. No special treatment for the youngest of the family. Either step up your game or don’t play at all. Jared thrived on those challenges – he learned how to rebound at age four – expanding his skills beyond his older counterparts. He became one of the top options on his teams, a role he was used to entering the NBA.

However, with the Celtics, Sullinger hasn’t been the go-to guy – a struggle that were foreign to Jared. In high school, he was named a McDonald’s All-American and won the Naismith Award. He accumulated piles of accolades in his two years at The Ohio State University and was projected as a lottery pick prior to health concerns about his back.

“When you grow up and you’re a basketball player, you’re kind of the go-to guy or you’re not only the go-to guy, but you get a lot of shots and you hardly ever come out. That’s what I was accustomed to,” Sullinger said. “Then when I got here, it kind of hit me like, ‘I’m not that guy anymore. I’m not that guy here at least.’ I just kind of woke up.”

In spite of falling in the draft, Jared showed why he garnered top-five talks early into his rookie season. He averaged close to 20 minutes a game, a rarity on a veteran-heavy Celtics team, and earned praise from hard-to-please Kevin Garnett. Jared was well on his way to establishing himself as one to watch before his season ended abruptly with a back injury that required surgery.

He made his return this season and while he still had to improve his conditioning following the lay off, he recorded three double-doubles in November and another two in December. Jared averaged 13.5 points and 7.0 rebounds the first two months of the regular season while adding a long-range shot to his repertoire.

But as 2013 came to an end, Jared shot a combined 8-for-29 FG (16 points) in the final three games of the calendar year. The beginning of 2014 wasn’t much better. A 3-for-17 shooting night was followed by a 3-for-11 performance early in the month. Weeks later, he went 0-for-5 from 3-point range during a 4-for-14 showing against the Miami HEAT. That same week he shot 3-for-10 (including 0-for-4 from behind the arc) in a loss to a Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder.

Jared was still rebounding at a high level (nine double-digit games in January) but the frustrations were building. He fouled out once and 10 games of four fouls or more. Little things began accumulating into a larger mound of angst.

Satch had seen enough. He delivered a large dose of tough love.

“He cussed me out multiple times. Then he probably felt like he was good,” said Jared. “My dad always talks about karma. As long as you have karma off the court, you have karma on the court. Me, I would hold on to that game or hold on to that foul call throughout the whole game, throughout the next day, going into the next game, going into the next game, the next game. It happened and it was a snowball effect. Once it started rolling, it just got bigger and bigger and bigger, and I couldn’t stop it. … Finally it hit one of my cars, that’s what I say, it basically hit one of my cars and now one of my cars is damaged. But mentally I’m ok now.”

The change in Jared has been drastic since processing his father’s message. He has recorded five straight double-double dating back to January 29. During this span he is averaging 21.1 points (48.9% FG) and 13.4 rebounds, and his fouls have dropped to 3.0 per game.

“He’s putting up numbers,” said Kris Humphries. “He’s been big. He’s making shots, he’s rebounding the ball well, he’s getting putbacks. He’s playing great.”

Last weekend, Jared had a monster performance of 31 points and 16 rebounds against dominant big man DeMarcus Cousins. On Monday, he was named NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Jared will also be heading to New Orleans to participate in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge during NBA All-Star Weekend.

“Pretty much I just let everything go,” Jared said. “If a ref makes a bad call or a call I don’t agree with, I let it go. If there’s a play call that I don’t think is the right play call, I let it go. If it’s me coming out of the game when I’ve got things rolling, I let it go. Before I would hold on to certain things like that.

“I’m smiling more. Before, in January, I hardly ever smiled. Then on top of that I’m just going out there and playing with a good attitude, a great attitude. I’m understanding whatever Coach (Brad) Stevens does or whatever the ref calls, that’s final, and live with it.”

Building mental tolerance can be challenging for young players. Often times it is easy to forget Jared is only 21; his stature makes him look years older. Teammate Gerald Wallace was drafted when he was just 18 and knows the ups and downs of barely being an adult NBA.

“You just can’t dwell on it because it’s a long season, there’s a lot of games,” said Wallace. “You’re going to make mistakes, things aren’t going to go your way, but you’ve just got to continue to play and move forward. I think knowing that fact, once you get stuck on something or something frustrates you, it takes you out of the game and mentally messes you up and lingers to the next game. You’ve got to learn to let it go, move into the next game, and stay focused on what you’re doing.”

Jared understands he can’t let growing pains affect him on the court. He has to carry himself with the same maturity and poise as players who have been in the league for 15 years. Age was never an excuse for him, and it isn’t about to become one now.

“It just means that I’ve got to grow up,” said Jared. “A lot of times I’m leading by example by going out there and doing certain things, it’s just going to take time.”

Jared will see his father during All-Star Weekend and Satch plans to travel to the Celtics’ upcoming road games against the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz. Jared has given him full permission to dish out another reminder if he sees his son slipping up again.

Without Satch around, Jared has his own ways of staying focused and remembering the basketball values his father instilled in him. Last season, Jared watched “The Lion King” (a childhood favorite) while rehabbing from his back surgery. He liked the movie’s message of overcoming challenges and drew motivation from it.

This time around he is drawing another lesson from the Disney classic, one about family. Being told he was disrespecting the Sullinger name impacted Jared. He had been taught being a Sullinger meant playing hard and respecting the game, similar qualities to wearing a Celtics uniform, he said.

Jared watched the movie prior to the January 29 game against the Philadelphia 76ers in which he broke out of a slump and posted 24 points and 17 rebounds. He estimates he has watched it in its entirety every non-game day since then.

“I think my favorite part is when Simba realizes he has to go back because he’s disrespecting his father,” Jared said. “His father pretty much laid the foundation down of who he is, and he forgot about it because he thought running away from his problems will finally erase the memories that happened. But at the end of the day, the only way to leave memories is by learning from them.”

For a brief period of time Jared cared too much about the wrong things. He got caught up in frustrations that weighed him down and frustrated thoughts that held him back on the court. His father’s visit reminded him of who he really is – he is a Sullinger, he is a Boston Celtic, he is a talented NBA player who is only scratching the surface of his potential.

“I’m just a guy that plays blue-collar Celtic green basketball,” he said. “That’s about it. I’m back to my old ways, but certain things don’t matter. What matters is us winning, what matters is me going out there playing my hardest.”

Sullinger lowered his voice into a near whisper as if repeating his mantra out loud.

“Hakuna Matata,” he said. “It means no worries for the rest of your days. It’s our problem-free philosophy. Hakuna Matata.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.




NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson

Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.

Ben Nadeau



Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?

Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.

“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”

Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.

While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.

Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.

“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”

Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.

“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.

Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.

Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.

But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.

“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”

When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.

And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.

“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”

One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.

“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”

And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.

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Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?

Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.

Shane Rhodes



The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.

With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.

It couldn’t get worse, could it?

Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.

In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.

The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.

Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.

The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.

Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.

Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?

If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.

Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.

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NBA Daily: Houston Has It All

Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.

Lang Greene



It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.

So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.

As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.

Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.

One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.

Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.

Floor Generalship

Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.

This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.

Small Ball Ready

Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.

At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.


When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.

Shooting, Versatility and Experience

All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.

Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.


Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.

With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.

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