In the midst of the chaos that has surrounded him, Jared Sullinger has arduously tried to remain focused on his rehabilitation from back surgery. And quietly, without fanfare as the Celtics attempt to reshuffle their roster, their second-year forward was cleared to participate in full basketball activities.
Sullinger greeted those local unsung superstars at Tuesday’s “Heroes Among Us” ceremony at the Massachusetts State House, greeting those who were honored at Celtics home games this season for their amazing feats that helped save lives and those less fortunate.
Afterward, Sullinger said he was humbled by the opportunity to participate, sporting a large grin because he is walking pain free, although with soreness. That tends to occur when you work out for the first time in five months as Sullinger did on Thursday in Waltham.
“It’s a slow process but I’m good, getting back into it,” he said more than six months after undergoing surgery Feb. 2 to repair a lumbar disk.
“I’ve been ready [for training camp], just give me about two more months to be a little smaller. I’ve been cleared to play. I’ve been cleared to have contact so I will be ready by Sept. 30.”
What may be awaiting Sullinger is a chance to start after the departure of Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets. Sullinger was a bright spot in an otherwise troublesome season for the Celtics, shining as a rookie off the bench, using his girth to grab rebounds and slide through defenders for putbacks. There was a belief he would struggle against bigger players but his biggest nemesis last season was his painful back.
“Recovery time is not as long,” he said. “There was times when we played a back-to-back [games] and I wouldn’t be fully healthy until the following week, even though we had two games in between. It took a minute and now it’s easy as 1-2-3.”
Sullinger acknowledged he has gained weight because of the lack of activity, but he is pain free. He doesn’t view the injury as a major setback but just another hurdle. Sullinger always has been considered undersized, too beefy and slow. But he has flourished at every level.
“I’ve never had an injury like this in my life and it’s pretty cool that I get to go through a little more adversity than I already have, I find it fun,” he said. “The first problem I had was the first day of contact and how sore I was the next day. So I’m just getting used to that. It’s slowly going away. I can’t wait to get back.”
He has been working with Celtics assistant coaches Jay Larranaga and Jaime Young the past few days, trying to work himself back into shape. The Celtics are a team in transition with players such as Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, and Keith Bogans unsure if they will even be in Boston for the season.
Sullinger is part of the future. A Doc Rivers favorite, he proved capable of producing and now will enter his second season with no physical limitations.
“I’m taking it as slow as possible because today is another day to get healthy,” he said.
Doctors have told Sullinger the injury is not chronic or career-altering as long as he performs the special exercises to strengthen the back. That good news keeps a smile on Sullinger’s face, especially since that same injury concern caused him to drop to 21st in the 2012 draft after being considered a potential No. 1 overall pick after his freshman season at Ohio State.
The Celtics’ schedule was released Tuesday night and Sullinger got an opportunity to see when the team returns to Cleveland, near his hometown of Columbus. Sullinger is looking forward to a productive, healthy season and he’s hardly concentrating on the rebuild.
“I have no worries man, I am just going to come out and play my game,” he said. “Whatever coach [Brad] Stevens needs me to do, that’s what I am going to do. I am ready for the season.”