Healthy Justice Sueing out to give Ohio State basketball answers after season of questions
The question was posed within the Ohio State coaching staff’s offices sometime in the immediate aftermath of the 2021-22 season. With a second-round NCAA Tournament loss still fresh on the books, and an eye on taking the next step as a program, what needed to happen to give the Buckeyes a roster capable of bringing home a Big Ten title and deep postseason run?
The answer that emerged was as frustrating as the reality why it didn’t happen. Had the Buckeyes had the team they planned for when the preseason began, it’s likely a different season. And while Kyle Young’s concussion concerns hampered Ohio State in the waning weeks of the season, it was the ongoing absence of Justice Sueing that proved most damaging.
But for as hard as it was for the Buckeyes to be without the athletic, versatile Sueing, it was harder for the fifth-year player to miss out on the season due to a groin injury that simply didn’t want to heal.
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“It’s definitely been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever faced in my life,” Sueing said Friday. “There was a lot of personal things going on in my life as well as that injury, and what got me through it a lot was me and my (Christian) faith, pretty much. It was very mentally draining because it wasn’t a lack of work that I was putting in or resources, it was just getting right up to where I wanted it to be and then some type of setback would occur and just having to constantly deal with that.”
Justice Sueing and other Buckeyes become part of NIL geared toward Ohio State
Seated in the basement of a Gahanna office building, Sueing spent Friday afternoon with six of his teammates as they signed to become the first players to partner with a new name, image and likeness collective geared specifically toward the Ohio State men’s basketball program. The O Foundation, which counts former players Ron Stokes, Evan Turner, D’Angelo Russell, Mike Conley Jr. and others as benefactors, is the latest in a line of opportunities for Sueing and his teammates to be compensated for their NIL rights while also doing charity work in the community.
The last time Sueing took the court for a full game for the Buckeyes, NIL wasn’t on the table. It was Ohio State’s first-round NCAA Tournament upset loss at the hands of Oral Roberts on March 19, 2021, and he was able to muster only 7 points and two rebounds in 34 minutes while dealing with a groin injury first suffered in late February that would hamper him for the remainder of the season.
Voted a captain by his teammates during the preseason, Sueing entered 2021-22 poised to assume a significant role. There was just one problem: that nagging groin injury hadn’t gone away.
“It was the same one, the one I was dealing with at the end of the year (before),” he said. “It got better, and then there was a lot of fluctuating with that injury. Finally found out what was wrong and we fixed it so I’m all good and I feel better than ever.”
He played a bit role in the first two games of the season before being shut down. Sueing saw a specialist and underwent a second, undisclosed procedure, but in the process he lost the entire season. And without Sueing, Ohio State navigated a compressed second-half schedule due to COVID-19, entered the final four games of the season with a shot at a Big Ten title but lost three of those games and suffered an opening-round exit in the Big Ten tournament.
“As I came to learn, it’s a complex region of the body,” Sueing said. “As much research and as much as we know about it, we don’t know that much to do. It’s not like a clean-cut injury like you broke your arm or something. It’s complicated in that area, but I’m just very glad that that part of the rehab is over and now I’m just finally able to play freely.”
Sueing did not participate in Ohio State’s summer exhibition trip to the Bahamas, where the Buckeyes played games against Egypt and Puerto Rico’s national teams. Before each game, Sueing put in significant work with the coaching staff but the decision was made not to risk anything in exhibition games.
Now, as Sueing said, he’s playing freely once again. At a former players’ dinner in early September, coach Chris Holtmann had Sueing tell those assembled that he was back to full health, and he made sure Sueing repeated the message so there could be no confusion about his status.
Ohio State basketball practice begins Wednesday
Wednesday, the Buckeyes will host their first official practice for the 2022-23 season. It’s Sueing’s fourth year with the program and his sixth year of college basketball. During his lone fully healthy season, he averaged 10.7 points and finished second on the roster with 5.5 rebounds per game from his spot on the wing. He was utilized as an occasional point guard when injuries decimated the position and according to KenPom.com was 57th nationally in free-throw rate (measuring how often a player gets to the line relative to how often he attempts to score).
There will be rust to knock off, but he’s ready to start.
“Man, you’re going to see a healthy Justice and hopefully I can bring a lot of wins to this program this year as well as me playing my game, being the best overall player I can be,” he said.