One side effect of the injury concerns that surrounded Jared Sullinger as he entered the NBA draft was that people suddenly seemed to forget just how good of a college basketball player he was.
Sullinger was a consensus All-American in both of his years at Ohio State, and a quick glance at his resume will tell you why.
As a freshman, Sullinger won national freshman of the year honors by leading the Big Ten in made free throws, total rebounds and offensive rebounds and finishing third in the conference in total points scored and ninth in total steals.
In his sophomore year Sullinger was second in the Big Ten in made field goals, first in made free throws and offensive rebounds, second in total rebounds, second in total points scored, fourth in field-goal percentage and seventh in total blocks.
He also helped lead the Buckeyes to the Final Four.
Yes, the injury problems were there, but to think Sullinger will be easily replaced by a new crop of recruits or even an older Amir Williams may be a bit presumptuous.
However, that doesn’t mean Thad Matta won’t be trying to find the next Sullinger somewhere on the recruiting trail. After all, the Ohio State coach has an impressive track record of landing big men, including Sullinger, Greg Oden, Kosta Koufos and Byron Mullens.
So, hypothetically speaking, which Matta target in the class of 2013 is the leading candidate to become the next Jared Sullinger?
The Buckeyes have already received verbal pledges from Marc Loving and Kameron Williams, but they are rumored to have their eyes on seven other players to fill three scholarships, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Those prospects are BeeJay Anya, Ishmail Wainright, Nigel Hayes, Noah Vonleh, Wayne Selden, Troy Williams and Devin Williams.
If we are talking about the next Sullinger, then Wainright, Hayes, Selden and Troy Williams can be ruled out based on size, position, talent or just the way they play the game.
That leaves BeeJay Anya, Noah Vonleh and Devin Williams.
Vonleh is a 6’8” power forward who is considered a 5-star prospect by Fox Sports Next (previously Scout.com) and the seventh-best overall player in the entire class. While he would be a great get for Matta and his staff, there is stiff competition in the form of Indiana, Kansas and North Carolina.
Vonleh was originally part of the class of 2014, but he recently reclassified to the class of 2013. That is the closest thing to an early Christmas present that whichever coach is able to land his services can get in the world of college basketball.
He possesses freak athleticism and is an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker. Furthermore, he can handle the ball effectively for his position and has a formidable jump shot.
Like Vonleh, Anya stands at 6’8”, but he is considered a 4-star center by Rivals. While he is somewhat undersized for the center position, he is an excellent rebounder, thanks largely to his lengthy wingspan.
Rivals also reports that Anya possesses outstanding strength, which would go a long way toward helping him bang around in the paint in the physical Big Ten.
The only real knock on Anya is his lack of dynamic athleticism, which is visible in his ball-handling skills and overall speed. However, he would be a great asset for the Buckeyes, especially down low on defense.
Another asset for Matta and company would be Devin Williams. Williams is yet another 6’8” center that Ohio State has its eye on.
He is a 4-star prospect (per Rivals) who is incredibly strong, which will help counteract his lack of size at the collegiate level. Furthermore, he is a talented passer for his position and an effective rebounder.
Williams isn’t quite the athlete that Vonleh is, but for the time being he is probably a bit more dynamic than Anya.
Based on these three choices of Thad Matta targets, I think BeeJay Anya is the most likely to be the next Jared Sullinger (if we are working under the assumption that there is one). He is basically the same size (although all three are 6’8”) and has the most similar game to the departed Buckeye star.
Sullinger was not the most athletic player, but he made up for it with tremendous rebounding ability and strength down low. Sure, he had some trouble with players that were significantly taller than him, but he was a force in the paint in the nation’s most physical league.
Furthermore, just like Anya, Sullinger wasn’t exactly Pete Maravich handling the basketball or Larry Bird shooting from outside. But he had a serviceable jumper, and it gradually developed in his two years in Columbus.
Anya has a jump-shot that should also improve after he has receives some instruction from Matta’s coaching staff.
If the Buckeyes are able to convince Anya to don the scarlet and gray, they will be welcoming a somewhat undersized center who doesn’t have dynamic athleticism but is a terrific rebounder and incredibly strong down low in the post.
That same formula worked out fairly nicely for Ohio State a couple years ago.
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