CHICAGO (AP) — Jared Sullinger sounded like a guy with something to prove. There's a reason why.
The former Ohio State star said he feels like he's "always the bad guy in every gym" because "everybody's overanalyzing my game." But he wants to make one thing clear.
He has some strengths.
"Everybody says I can't do this, I can't do that," Sullinger said Friday at the NBA draft combine in Chicago. "Everybody points out all the negatives. There's a lot of positive things I think I do. That's not for me to discuss."
It's for teams to decide, and with the draft approaching this month, Sullinger hopes he can ease any lingering concerns. He believes the combine this week went a long way toward doing just that as he takes the next step following two standout seasons in college.
A two-time All-American forward, Sullinger was widely projected as a top 10 pick had he turned pro a year ago. But now? That's up in the air.
With the NBA lockout looming this time last year, top prospects such as Sullinger and Harrison Barnes decided to stay in school without knowing when their rookie seasons would start. The result was a thin draft then and a deep one now.
Even so, Sullinger doesn't think about what might have been.
"I never tested the waters," he said, although he did acknowledge: "Everybody was saying one, two, three (in the draft). I don't know."
He returned to Ohio State with a dramatically different team that was missing three seniors after finishing 34-3 his freshman season and showed up with a dramatically slimmed down body. He dropped 25 pounds and was more mobile. Instead of scoring all his points with his back to the basket, he popped to the perimeter and shot over the defense.
He emerged as one of the Buckeyes' top 3-point threats, shooting 40 percent from long range, and averaged 17.5 points and 9.2 rebounds while leading them to a 31-8 record and a Final Four berth. He was 63-10 as a starter, yet the doubts linger. And Michigan State's Draymond Green doesn't understand why.
"He's going to be a great pro," Green said. "He's contributed at every level. What's going to stop him from contributing in the pros? Some people said he wouldn't do good in college, and he's one of the best college players for the last two years. He's contributed, so I don't see what will stop him from being good in the pros as well."
Supporters can point to his soft hands and touch, his ability to set up down low or drill the jumper, and his improved conditioning. Even so, questions remain about his defense and athleticism and even his height — he measured 6-foot-9 with shoes, 6-7 ¾ without them.
"I hear it all," he said.
And he wants to prove them wrong. He believes the combine helped.
"I think it kind of answered questions about who I am, how high I can jump or how tall I am," he said. "It kind of ends some of the questions. For this to happen, it kind of helps me out."
He also believes two years in the physical Big Ten helped prepare him for the bumps and bruises he'll absorb at the next level. He also credited Buckeyes assistant Chris Jent with an assist for helping him get ready for the draft.
"C.J. is very honest with me," Sullinger said. "He doesn't sugarcoat anything. That's the way he was raised. He's a Jersey boy. He came from the NBA, so he knows what everybody's expecting. C.J.'s really honest with me."
Note: Barnes would not mind joining his friend Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers hold the fourth pick. "It'd be great, but ultimately, that's not my decision," Barnes said. "That's theirs. Depending on how workouts go, we'll see what happens." .... There's a good chance Anthony Davis goes to New Orleans with the top pick, but if he winds up in Charlotte at No. 2, his mom apparently wouldn't be too disappointed. "She just likes the city of Charlotte. She's got friends there," he said. Davis is a Chicago product and he'd get to play for Michael Jordan if the Bobcats drafted him.