NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 25: Jared Sullinger #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates after a play against the Kentucky Wildcats during the first half of the east regional semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Prudential Center on March 25, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
In one hand you have a budding superstar. The top rated big man in a guard-heavy 2010 signing class. A bulky kid with an outstanding inner circle and the mindset to become the greatest that ever played. After wrapping up his inaugural year at the college level, with reports that he was virtually assured of going in the top five, this 6'9", 280lb youngster decided to come back to school for another season. The bags of money waiting at his doorstep were promptly turned away. Come back next year.
In the other hand you have a talent-rich kid with ideal size to play down low. Viewed unanimously as a top 30 prospect in the 2010 class, most agreed he had just as much long-term potential as any of his peers. A pudgy center with soft hands and an impenetrable body, the 6'10", 305lb center wrapped up his first year in college with respectable numbers in a major conference (10.9 pts, 6.3 rebs). But without much interest from NBA scouts, another season at school would have to suffice. No money for you. Better luck next year.
So there it was; a pair of blue chip recruits heading into their first true summer as college athletes, each needing to iron out various aspects of their respective games. The first needed to tone his body, add some athleticism, and develop a more consistent game away from the basket. The second needed to cut a vast amount of weight, drastically increase his stamina, and make a strong attempt to avoid all-you-can-eat buffets. If these soon-to-be sophomores were able manage these things properly, then we might be talking about the two best interior presences in college hoops next season.
But that's the funny thing. Elite level determination doesn't flow through the veins of all who play the sport. Some have it. Others don't.
The telling part about this story is that the first guy didn't even need to lift up an Xbox controller this summer to maintain his status as one of the best players in college basketball. He could show up this fall carrying a bunch of extra weight, proceed to regress statistically, and still wind up signing for millions of dollars next June. But that's not who he is. That's not how Ohio State's Jared Sullinger was raised.
Instead of resting on his laurels and coming back as a similar, albeit slightly more experienced version of his 2010-11 self, Sullinger has literally been busting his ass this offseason. The baby fat that most people harked on is long gone, and it appears, based on The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy's grainy PG-13 cellphone picture, that Sully is going to show up in the fall looking like an extra from a P90X infomercial. Not a bad way to spend the offseason.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, mocked by fans, writers, and opponents for his Michelin Man physique, the second player in question might just be the most out-of-shape big man in college basketball. His 305lb in-season weight deserves a bit of a chuckle, as the true number lies much, much higher than his school would like you to believe. And yet, living in arguably the most beautiful state in the country, with the sun beating down daily, it wouldn't seem all that difficult for this kid to spend a few months outside getting into respectable shape. But apparently that's not who he is. Nope, UCLA's Josh Smith doesn't seem to care about any of that stuff.
Despite receiving only sporadic minutes and constantly drawing the ire of coach Ben Howland last year, Smith is having an absolute blast of a summer. He's having so much fun that his coach has already announced that his young center is at least 10 pounds over his freshman playing weight. And if that's not a ringing endorsement of Funyuns as the ideal offseason snack, then we're not sure what is. While it's probably true that Smith will get run through the gauntlet as the season nears and will therefore lose the ten pounds by default, his complete lack of transformation this summer is laughable. What can you say about a person's commitment when he's asked to do ONE thing in the offseason, and he fails so miserably that he actually gains weight in the process?
It was only a short time ago when these two big men were not all that different. Now, because of nothing more than sheer determination (or lack thereof), they are polar opposites. Any guesses on which guy has a better sophomore campaign?