Jared Sullinger made his name as a basketball player in the high school, college and professional ranks. But his contributions to winning a championship in The Basketball Tournament last summer never required him to leave the bench.
Sullinger, a former star at Northland High School and Ohio State who enjoyed a five-year NBA career, made his coaching debut a successful one a year ago, leading Carmen’s Crew to the title in the winner-take-all, made-for-television tournament.
The son of longtime central Ohio coach James "Satch" Sullinger, Jared had competed with the unofficial Ohio State alumni team for two years before taking over as coach.
His fine work with a clipboard was acknowledged at times on ESPN broadcasts during last year’s run, such as when it became apparent that the team was relying on former Illinois standout Demetri McCamey to provide a third-quarter punch to help carry the team into the final quarter.
It was a calculated strategy designed to maximize the talents of one player, and a sign that Sullinger was taking his duties seriously and not merely rolling out the ball to let his friends and former teammates play a loose style in the tournament.
As he approaches his second go-round as coach, Sullinger, now 28, is planning a similar approach with the addition of high-level scorer and former Buckeyes star Deshaun Thomas to the Carmen’s Crew roster.
"An Elam Ending killer. That’s what he is," Sullinger said of the game-ending strategy employed in TBT games, in which the clock is turned off for the game’s final minutes while each team chases a target score.
Of Thomas, who played at OSU for three seasons, from 2010-13, Sullinger said, "He’s suited to play in a tournament like this, especially when it comes down to getting seven points."
This year’s TBT, which began Saturday at Nationwide Arena, is a different event than the ones held the previous six summers, largely because of the coronavirus pandemic. The tournament size was reduced from 64 teams to 24, with a $1 million purse instead of $2 million.
All games are being played in Nationwide Arena, with play continuing through the championship on July 14. The first game for Carmen’s Crew, the top seed, is on Wednesday.
The core remains mostly intact for Carmen’s Crew, which will feature Aaron Craft, Jon Diebler, David Lighty among others on the court and Evan Turner as general manager. It’s a group that won at a high level in college and one that enters the TBT bubble looking to repeat its title.
There were a few challenges putting the roster together. Sullinger said there was a registration time frame that LaQuinton Ross missed, which led to the addition of Thomas. In addition, original Carmen’s Crew member Evan Ravenel had to back out in order to take care of some family business, leading to the addition of Walnut Ridge alumnus Malik Dime. For the first time, Lenzelle Smith Jr. also joins the roster.
Sullinger said the roster is the best that Carmen’s Crew has had.
"We’ve got 10 guys that just know how to play basketball, guys that are not going to step out of their range," he said. "We play in open gym every day. Everybody knows what everybody can do."
In addition to COVID-19 testing conducted by TBT organizers, Carmen’s Crew members also took their own tests before gathering to begin practice. Many team members live in the Columbus area, Sullinger said, and several have children, so nobody wanted to jeopardize their ability to play in an event that will disqualify any team in which a player tests positive for the virus.
In an uncertain time, getting back on the court has provided a feeling of normalcy.
"We get a gym and rent it out, and we know we’re with our guys," Sullinger said. "We feel safe. The competitive nature kicks in, and you just see basketball happening."
Bringing home another title is the obvious goal, but that’s only part of why Sullinger said the former Buckeyes are putting themselves into quarantine away from their families.
"The reason why we play is to be able to play with our former teammates," he said. "It’s a brotherhood. It’s a fraternity that we have at Ohio State. The money is the bonus."