Jared Sullinger shines, current and former Buckeyes watch in Kingdom Summer League action

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Jared Sullinger attempts a free throw as teammate Meechie Johnson Jr. watches during a Kingdom Summer League game at Ohio Dominican on Sunday.

After a one-year pause during the pandemic, the Kingdom Summer League is back and has a new location. The annual basketball showcase, which features some of the region’s top past and present talent, takes place each Sunday with four games starting at 2:30 p.m.

On June 27, roughly a dozen current or former Ohio State men’s basketball players were inside the Ohio Dominican University gym. Here’s a recap of what took place.

Andre Wesson, JaQuan Lyle battle in opener

A pair of former teammates – and a potential future Buckeye – were on the court for the opening game. Former Ohio State forward and Westerville South graduate Andre Wesson helped lead Team Flee Kicks past a Training Camp team with JaQuan Lyle and Africantric rising junior guard Dailyn Swain, 97-83.

Wesson, who is playing locally while pursuing a professional career, finished with 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He opened the game with a three-pointer, had a crucial drive-and-dish in the final two minutes to fend off a comeback attempt and, befitting to his playing career, took a massive charge in the lane to wipe out a fastbreak attempt.

He also, at one point, airballed a three-pointer as Lyle, who played two seasons at Ohio State, was guarding him. Wesson’s younger brother, Kaleb, watched most of the game from the bench while wearing a Baltimore Ravens jersey.

Kaleb Wesson is slated to participate in The Basketball Tournament this summer as a member of Carmen’s Crew. He told The Dispatch that he will also play in the NBA’s Summer League with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Lyle, meanwhile, had seven points and, on one possession, drove past Wesson and drew a foul.

He was teamed up with Swain, a 2023 recruit who received a scholarship offer from Ohio State after a June 23 unofficial visit. In limited time, and playing against professional players several years older, Swain hit a stepback jumper on his only shot attempt of the game.

Africentric guard Dailyn Swain after participating in the Kingdom Summer League at Ohio Dominican University on June 27, 2021.

Jared Sullinger, current Buckeyes force overtime, go on to win

Fresh off a dominant performance in the Korean League after sitting out multiple seasons of professional basketball, Jared Sullinger showed off a trimmed-down physique and dangerous three-point shot in what would be an overtime win for Team V.

Playing alongside current Buckeyes Meechie Johnson Jr. and Zed Key Jr. as well as Pickerington North product and Indiana-to-Xavier transfer Jerome Hunter, Sullinger swished a contested three-pointer in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime. During the extra three minutes, he opened the scoring with a three and then hit another step-back three-pointer to finish with 31 points.

Sullinger was frequently deferential to his teammates until the final moments and was 9 for 12 from three while primarily hovering around the three-point line.

It was a glimpse of what Key said he hopes to showcase as his game continues to grow.

“He’s a 3-4 in the NBA,” Key said. “He’s on the perimeter doing that, so that’s what I want to get my game to. Everything he says, you take it. He’s seeing stuff and he’s telling you that he’s been there. You have to listen to him.”

Sullinger occasionally paired with Key, who will battle to be Ohio State’s primary center this season, on a few occasions, but Key’s impact was limited by foul trouble. He finished with six points, four of which came on dunks, and had a powerful dunk negated when he was called for hooking the defender on a spin move.

“I’ve got to get used to the refs here,” Key said. “They’re not Big Ten refs, so they don’t let anything go. They were calling some nonsense, but it happens I guess. Gotta wait for the next one.”

Johnson, who will see a significant bump in playing time as he enters his second season alongside Key, started and played the entire first quarter without a break. He finished with nine points and, after swishing a pair of deep early three-pointers on his second attempt of the game, would miss his final six attempts from deep. He spent time both on the ball and at shooting guard.

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In the final minutes of regulation, with his team trailing, Johnson came up empty on a few scoring chances. He missed a three and, on another possession, drove the lane and had a look at the rim but instead kicked it back out to a teammate on the wing.

“It was just about we knew Sully was hot, but Sully told me to keep shooting because my shot’s going to start falling early in the second half,” Johnson said of the final few minutes. “To have an Ohio State legend like Sully telling me to keep shooting, but for him to take over the game we knew it was him who needed the ball.”

Hunter, who transferred to Xavier, finished with 12 points.

Scoonie Penn honored, other Buckeyes look on

The Ohio State program was represented on and off the court. With former Big Ten player of the year and current director of professional development Terence Dials looking on, Scoonie Penn was given a “Legend Award” by Kingdom Summer League founder Tihon Johnson.

Penn is now an NBA assistant coach for Memphis after having been director of player development at Ohio State.

Former Ohio State guard Scoonie Penn (left) is presented a "Legend Award" at the Kingdom Summer League by found Tihon Johnson at Ohio Dominican University on June 27, 2021.

Multiple current players were in the crowd as well: Seth Towns, Gene Brown and newly enrolled freshmen Malaki Branham and Kalen Etzler.

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“Just to have them here and learning in the summer, I think they’re going to have a big year, especially Malaki,” Johnson said of the freshmen. “And Kalen, but Malaki’s going to play a big role for us and play great minutes. I think we’ve got a very, very great team this year.”

Harrison Hookfin, A.J. Harris close it out

Once Key and Johnson finished playing, most of the Buckeyes left the arena for the final two games. As they filed out, former Ohio State guard A.J. Harris teamed with former Michigan guard Xavier Simpson in a 97-90 win.

Harris, who played the 2015-16 season with the Buckeyes before transferring to New Mexico State, finished with 13 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

“It’s really good to come back and showcase my talent, come back to Columbus and show everybody,” Harris said. “It’s not weird (to be back). I’ll be in and out (of town) sometimes.”

In the nightcap, Ohio State walk-on Harrison Hookfin finished with six points.

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“You’re going against a lot of guys who played overseas and played pro and stuff,” he said. “It’s good competition. It’s all friendly. It’s good for the community, come out on Sundays and see some good games.”

A late-blooming player in high school who walked onto the Ohio State team during his freshman year, Hookfin said the league offers him an opportunity to play against his teammates in front of fans who otherwise don’t really get to see him in action.

“It’s good going against my teammates, getting a little competitive, talking some smack outside of open gyms we do on our own,” he said with a smile.