Let's make one thing clear: Jared Sullinger was an absolute beast in college. From the moment he arrived at Ohio State in 2010, an 18-year-old freshman playing against the big boys in the Big East, he was one of the nation's premier talents. And he put up numbers to prove it -- in two seasons, he averaged 17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game before leaving the Buckeyes to enter the draft last spring.
In the pros, it hasn't been quite that easy.
Sullinger's role on the Celtics has wavered over those first few weeks. He's been a starter in three games; he's been a bit player off the bench in three. He's been billed as a rising star at times; he's been cast aside as an afterthought at others.
And it wasn't until today, playing big minutes off the bench in a 107-89 blowout of the visiting Toronto Raptors, that Sullinger finally recorded his first career double-double in the League. With 12 points and 11 rebounds (four offensive) against the Raps, Sullinger announced his arrival to the NBA world. He was proud of it.
"It feels good," the rookie forward said. "I'm used to having double-doubles, so it feels good to carry that over to the next level."
Indeed he was. He recorded 35 at Ohio State, including 18 his freshman year. When he first arrived in Columbus, he was billed as a potential No. 1 pick in the draft. Back issues may have caused a dropoff to No. 21 in June, but now that it's November, Sullinger is acclimating himself nicely into the Celtics' system, showing unusual confidence and poise for a rookie. Not since -- dare I say it? -- Rajon Rondo has a first-year player come along with the ability to make this kind of impact.
"It's nice," Rivers said of Sullinger's presence. "He knows where to go. He knows his place. He just knows how to play. He has this rare calming effect at times when you put him in, and I don't think I've ever said that about a rookie. It's nice to have that."
"That's Doc's words," Sullinger said of the "calming effect" line. "I don't know how you interpret that. Whatever Doc says, goes. I'm just following his direction."
It's been a slow process for Sullinger to learn his way in Doc's system. His inconsistent role these first few weeks has been tough -- he was a big man on campus at Ohio State, obviously, and it was jarring to see Doc yank him early in Thursday night's game against the Nets, benching him for most of the night. He's not used to that treatment.
"I don't think he was happy about not playing against Brooklyn," Rivers said. "But I told all the guys, if a guy gets an offensive rebound on you, you're coming out. He was the first.
"I wasn't upset that I didn't play a lot," Sullinger said. "I was just upset that we lost. I just had to channel my energy towards the next game, understanding that even if I don't play a lot, there's things that I can do to help the basketball team."
You have to admire the kid for his willingness to adjust. He won't be scoring 17 a night in Boston, the way he did in Columbus -- there's way too many stars on the Celtics' depth chart, and only one ball. But while Sullinger may still drop the occasional double-double, individual stats aren't what he's all about. He's a hard-working young player who wants to be a contributor to a winning team.
His teammates are recognizing it, too.
"Sully does small things," noted Kevin Garnett. "He rebounds the ball. He gets guys open. Small things that you're probably not looking for on the stat sheet. But as his teammate? When you play with him, you see his dives. His rolls. Him getting [Jason Terry] open looks. Stuff like that. Little small things that don't show up on your little yellow pad, but they make us better. And in this process of getting better, everybody has to do those small things."