Fully healthy, Justice Sueing ready to be impact player for Ohio State men's basketball
His teammates were scattered to the wind. The world was shutting down around him, and Justice Sueing was stuck in his apartment as far from home as he had ever been.
It was March, and instead of watching his Ohio State basketball teammates attempt to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, the Hawaii native and California transfer was trying to get a screw taken out of his healing left foot but having little luck. Sueing had suffered the injury during a midseason practice, but the appropriate time to remove the screw coincided with an almost universal suspension of non-life-threatening surgeries.
As the global COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down borders, Sueing had to figure out whether he would have the surgery in Columbus or if he could fly home and have it performed there. After about two weeks of waiting, Sueing was able to return home and have the procedure done in Hawaii.
He arrived just in time, too.
“I think I got in the day or the day before they started implementing the 14-day quarantine rule, so if you came in from the mainland you got to sit in a hotel for 14 days or if you lived there you had to sit at home for 14 days,” Sueing told The Dispatch. “Once I had (the screw) taken out and was able to finally make some progression and moving and trying to normalize my foot after the injury, I was by myself pretty much and everything was through video calls and workouts (Ohio State) sent to me.”
The recovery process was officially on, and now that he’s fully healthy Sueing is in line to assume a significant role on this Buckeyes team. A 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward, Sueing played two seasons for the Golden Bears and was the leading scorer and rebounder on a team that went 8-23 in 2018-19, his sophomore season. When he opted to transfer, he chose Ohio State in part because the move to the Midwest would take him out of his comfort zone.
After sitting out a season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, he’s poised to make an immediate impact this season.
“He’s going to be really important for us,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “He’s really shown his ability in some of our early practices just as a 6-7 strong kid with ball skills. He’s been able to make threes. He’s been able to attack the paint.”
The biggest area of emphasis is defense. At Cal, Sueing played in primarily a 2-3 zone for a team that finished 286th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. The demands of playing in Holtmann’s system, which has seen the Buckeyes finish no lower than 25th defensively during his first three seasons with the program, are significantly different.
That has been an adjustment. So, too, has the hope for his three-point shooting. In his two seasons at Cal, Sueing shot 30.7% (77 for 251) from three, and Holtmann said OSU coaches are hoping to see him bump that total up to around 35% on a team that has to replace its top two three-point shooters from a season ago.
What he does very well, though, is slash, draw contact and get to the foul line. As a sophomore, he drew an average of 4.9 fouls per 40 minutes. His free-throw rate, which measures a player’s ability to get to the line relative to how often he tries to score, of 50.9% ranked him No. 126 nationally according to KenPom.com. The only Ohio State player with a higher national ranking in the last nine years was Kaleb Wesson last season, who finished 117th nationally at 52.5%.
“A lot of it comes from my dad teaching me certain angles and certain gaps in the defense I can play with,” Sueing said. “He really emphasized if you can get to the paint it really creates a lot for yourself and a lot for your team. Shout-out to pop for that.”
It also belies the laid-back, easygoing nature Sueing’s teammates say he brings to the court.
“He’s one of those guys where he’s really got a laid-back personality, and he kind of glides out onto the floor, but he’s a good athlete,” Holtmann said.
This season, he’ll be counted on to be that – and more.