Ohio State's Justice Sueing embracing homecoming vibes at Maui Invitational
LAHAINA, Hawaii – There’s a balance required to be a successful high-level athlete. For Justice Sueing, that means bringing a calmness that he feels is just as vital as the will to win.
It’s an attitude that grew in Sueing throughout his upbringing on the island of Oahu, where the son of a former University of Hawaii star was born and raised. Monday, for the first time in five years, Sueing is back to the source. A sixth-year graduate forward, Sueing will take the court as Ohio State participates in the Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center, and he’s planning to bring those vibes with him in a return to his home state.
Even if this island feels a little different than his home.
“Being here in the state of Hawaii, you always feel that welcoming spirit and welcoming feeling of the culture of people here,” Sueing told The Dispatch, seated outside the team dining room at the Hyatt Regency Maui. “Here it’s a little more country for sure. Back in Oahu it’s definitely more touristy in terms of the attractions and the downtown life, but either way the good thing is you’re going to experience the same type of culture and people, which is a major takeaway from it.”
Sueing’s homecoming will feature a cast of familiar faces on hand to see him play starting with Monday’s game against San Diego State. His parents, younger brother and multiple members of his extended family will be in the stands in addition to potentially former coaches, teammates and childhood friends.
Whether he has dozens of personal fans or not, Sueing’s father, Justice Sr., said his son’s return will have the support of them all.
“I have friends that are going to show,” he said. “We have family showing up and people that’s always supported him. It could be one person but that love would be there from everyone, so he’ll feel the same support. He hasn’t played in front of his family in a while, so I think that will help with everything and his adrenaline and excitement.
“I think it’s going to be really good.”
Since Ohio State’s Friday arrival, the younger Sueing has served as a de facto tour guide and cultural ambassador for his teammates. Sueing has educated his teammates on everything from the origins of the islands (they’re the product of a chain of volcanoes, which evidently surprised freshman Roddy Gayle Jr.) to why Shoyu chicken is among his favorite foods – even though the version the Buckeyes were treated to couldn’t compare to his mom’s recipe.
“When they were telling me how good it is, I was like, ‘Bro, it’s good, but my mom’s is 20 times better,’ ” Sueing said. “She’s got the actual recipe down. I’m hopeful I can get them to try a lot of other foods.”
Back in Columbus, Sueing has a ukulele but didn’t bring it with him because freshman walk-on guard Colby Baumann brought his instead. The two have taken turns playing it while here, and although he admitted to being a bit rusty Sueing said his favorite song to perform is “Honey Baby” by Three Plus.
His homecoming has brought questions from more than only his teammates. He filmed a segment of “94 Feet” with ESPN’s Jay Bilas and has been the subject of multiple stories revolving around his return to Hawaii. It’s been the most time Sueing has spent in the spotlight since he spent nearly the entire 2021-22 season keeping publicly quiet while working to return from a groin injury that led to a medical redshirt.
“It’s definitely an adjustment, something that I had to mentally prepare for,” he said of the extra attention. “Being out of the loop for such a long time, having it happen all at once is something you’ll have to adjust to, but it’s been fine for the most part.”
Three games into his final season, Sueing is still showing some of the rust that accumulated last season. Coach Chris Holtmann said his primary concern has been Sueing’s recent looseness with the ball, highlighted by a five-turnover outing the last time out as Ohio State beat Eastern Illinois 65-43 last Wednesday.
“That’s probably been my biggest area of challenge for him,” Holtmann said. “That, and the fact he’s got to continue to grow defensively. He’ll shoot it better than what he’s shot it, but he cannot give away possessions.”
Sueing participated in the Maui Invitational during his freshman season at the University of California on a Golden Bears team that lost to Wichita State, VCU and Division II host school Chaminade in 2017. His father said he’s played on Maui but not at the Lahaina Civic Center.
After the injury that held him out for all but two games last season, both father and son said they’re appreciating this final year of college basketball. Monday, they’ll get to experience it together.
“It’s just great to see him out there, him suited up,” his father said. “I’m watching more than just the game. I’m looking at him, seeing how long a way he’s come since the injury. Now it’s just timing, him getting his full flow going again. That’s going to come where he’s in a good Justice flow.
“Just happy to see him out there.”
Good vibes all around.