Their official name is Team Scarlet & Gray, but Jared Sullinger’s nickname might be more fitting.
“The Matta’s Great What-if Team,” the former Ohio State basketball player said.
Sullinger returns to Team Scarlet & Gray for the $2 million winner-takes-all The Basketball Tournament starting July 21 at Capital University. He will be joined by a who’s who of recent OSU stars who played under coach Thad Matta, including new addition Greg Oden.
Matta’s teams were among the country’s best for much of his tenure, though the ultimate prize of a national title proved elusive.
“It’s a lot of Matta what-ifs,” Sullinger said of Team Scarlet & Gray. “If Greg would have stayed four years. If I would have stayed four years. If Evan (Turner) would have stayed four years.”
But these players revel in being on the court together more than they thirst after the prize money or seek to make up for disappointments from their college careers. Sullinger cherishes the chance to play with Oden for the first time.
“He’s like a monster,” Sullinger said. “He’s huge, man, and he’s still dominant. It’s amazing. He’s one of my favorite players to watch. He’s a big guy with footwork.”
Oden, 30, was the first pick of the 2007 NBA draft, but injuries ruined his career.
“I’m not looking at it as I’m lifting a cloud over my head or I’m trying to make a comeback,” Oden said. “I’m just going out there and playing with some friends. Don’t get me wrong — when I get back on the court, I play the right way and I take it seriously. But it’s not me trying to make a comeback.”
He’d been asked to join Team Scarlet & Gray in previous years but only now does his body feel up to it.
“After three years of asking, they finally got me to say yes,” Oden said.
Sullinger would like to return to the NBA after fighting injuries. A year ago, he had two foot surgeries before playing in China, where he averaged 30 points per game.
“At this point last year, I thought I’d never be able to play basketball again,” said Sullinger, a former first-round pick of the Boston Celtics. “Just injury after injury. Finally, I’m in a space where I just want to play basketball. I’m happy. I’m healthy. Whatever opportunity I get, I’ll take it in full stride and move forward.”
Team Scarlet & Gray coach Scoonie Penn said he believes Sullinger can return to the NBA.
“Not many guys in the NBA can do what he does,” he said. “He’s a walking double-double.”
Sullinger made the all-tournament team last year for Team Scarlet & Gray, which lost in the semifinals. This year’s team also includes Aaron Craft, David Lighty, Jon Diebler, Byron Mullens and ex-Penn State star Talor Battle.
“I feel we’re the probably the most talented team,” Penn said. “We have good camaraderie. The guys know each other. “We’re not here to play around, though we have fun doing what we do. We have serious guys who want to win.”
The television exposure also could help open opportunities for the former Buckeyes.
“We’ll be the prime-time team,” Penn said. “We’ll be the team everybody wants to see on ESPN. It’s a good feeling for these guys.”
So would winning $2 million.
“We could all use a little bit of $2 million,” Oden said. “But for me it’s just about getting out and playing basketball. The prize money is just a bonus.”