But Sullinger doesn’t carry himself like some kid. Here in Orlando, he’s setting up shop on the Celtics’ bench, and playing the role of mentor to guys like Kelly Olynyk, who just happen to be older than him. When Celtics assistant Jay Larranga, who is coaching the Summer League team, was asked about Sullinger “kind of” acting like a coach today, he smirked and shot back,
Sullinger has been lauded for his “high basketball IQ” for a long time now. Kevin Garnett, notoriously tough on rookies, quickly gave the same effusive praise last season, and used it almost every time he spoke about Sullinger. So it’s not a shock that Sullinger is putting his mind to this use on the bench while he waits for his body to be ready for the floor.
“Sully’s so smart,” gushed Larranga. “With him and Kelly we have two very,very high IQ basketball guys. And Sully’s a very social guy… but every single thing he said was right on point. It’s almost as much of an advantage as if he was on the court. We would prefer he was on the court, not coaching, but he was really helpful on the bench.”
Sullinger was quick to blow off the “coach” label, but it doesn’t make it inappropriate.
“He’s great on the bench, telling me different stuff,” said Olynyk. “One time, [Orlando Magic guard Victor] Oladipo came down the lane and I missed a tag on him, so [Sullinger's] just trying to help me out as best he can. It’s great having him there.”
I guess this is what you call natural leadership. It’s the type of attitude that transcends age. Let’s be honest, how many coaches want to hear it from a kid that is spending his first summer able to legally buy beer? But they accept it, probably because Sullinger doesn’t give a damn about it.
“If we had the 15-year-old Jared Sullinger on our bench,” mused Larranga, “He’d be giving us suggestions and ideas.”
“It’s been like that for a long time,” explained Sullinger. “I’ve been doing it since I was like 12. Even talking to my older brothers. At the time they didn’t listen. As time wore on they said ‘you was right about what you said.’ I’m just not ashamed to show my basketball IQ.”
He’s really not ashamed about much, if anything at all. That’s why he’s not afraid to let you know that he hears you.
“When you have Celtic pride, you don’t really have time to rebuild. You gotta play hard, play smart. Everybody counts us out, but we still have Rondo. He won a championship in ‘08, he knows what it takes.”
The Celtics still have Sullinger, too. And he knows that big words write big checks that he’ll need to cash this upcoming season.
He does not, however, seem to be afraid.
“I gotta step up and do a little bit more, probably play a little bit more. At the same time, we just wanna play. We’re tired of everybody talking about how we’re going to tank. We just want to play and shut everybody up.”