It’s in the blood

Deanna Stevens

Like brother J.J., Julian Sullinger is becoming a college hoop star

Sophomore forward-turned-center Julian Sullinger has helped the Flashes win six consecutive games with his consistent post play. Since Sullinger joined the starting lineup, the Flashes have not lost. AMANDA SOWARDS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Jason Hall

It wasn’t becoming the Columbus City co-player of the year in high school; it wasn’t even winning the Mid-American Conference Championship last season.

When it comes to Kent State sophomore Julian Sullinger’s greatest achievement, he goes with a pick-up game win four years ago. In that game, he defeated his older brother, J.J. Sullinger.

“He still says it wasn’t fair because he had on sandals,” Sullinger said. “But I still take it as a victory.”

The win was the first for Sullinger against his brother, a former Ohio State basketball standout. Sullinger said that was the extent to the sibling rivalry. When it comes to his big brother, he has the utmost admiration.

He said he’s heard about being “J.J.’s little brother” since high school but has no problem with it.

“Actually, I love it,” Sullinger said. “I love my brother as a person, so putting me in the same sentence as him is praise.”

With an older brother who played at Ohio State, a younger brother, Jared, who is making a name for himself at Northland High School in Columbus and a father who coaches for Northland, Julian’s alma mater, basketball has always been the family business.

His father, Satch, who played college ball at Oberlin, was the one to put a basketball in Julian’s hands when he was three-years-old.

“I was always a gym rat because I always wanted to be around my dad,” Sullinger said.

Since being assigned a new position on the team, the 6-foot-3 forward has begun to stand out on his own.

Sullinger has been starting at center since the Flashes’ Jan. 17 loss at Akron. Kent State has gone 6-0 since the lineup switch.

“In high school, I rarely played center,” Sullinger said. “I’ve always had the ability to score inside, and playing the center position is not bad. As long as I’m out on the floor, I’ll be happy to play any position.”

Kent State coach Jim Christian said Sullinger has been able to make such a smooth transition to the spot because of his growth, both mentally and physically.

“He improved his game, so I think he’s more confident,” Christian said. “His game is more polished this year than it was last year. He’s a lot stronger, so I think he’s physically ready to play that spot.”

Sullinger stressed his improved mentality toward the game.

“My mindset is more care-free, knowing that you’re going to make mistakes, but just going out there and just playing, giving it your all,” Sullinger said. “Last year, I was more conscious about making mistakes instead of just going out there and playing.”

And those improvements have been seen in the stats. In conference play, Sullinger is averaging 10 points per game, nearly four rebounds and is shooting almost 61 percent from the field.

Against Toledo Tuesday night, Sullinger scored a career-high 17, one more point than he scored his entire freshman year.

“He’s got a really good feel around the basket,” Christian said. “He’s able to make up for his lack of size by using his body and his great timing around the rim. It’s one of those cases where guys like him are used to playing against bigger guys. They kind of figure it out, and they know what they need to do.”

Christian added that Sullinger’s presence isn’t only being felt in the paint.

“He’s a guy that is emerging as more of a leader,” Christian said. “(He’s) more vocal. At team meetings, he’s not afraid to let people know what he sees and what he thinks.”

Playing the post position is conducive to his preferred style of play.

“I thrive on contact,” Sullinger said. “That’s the kind of player I am. I try my best not to shy away from it.”

Sullinger said he’s happy with his success at center but the most important aspect of his new role is helping Kent State win. The Flashes will have an opportunity to push the win streak to seven games and sweep the MAC West Division Sunday at noon at Western Michigan.

“It’s great that the team is playing well and that we’ve found a way to kind of turn around our season,” Sullinger said. “Hopefully, we can keep this going.”

Contact men’s basketball reporter Deanna Stevens at [email protected].