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Jared Sullinger has healthy outlook for the Celtics

A trimmer Jared Sullinger was happy to pose for pictures during the Celtics’ media day.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

WALTHAM — In May, Jared Sullinger’s agent, David Falk, reached out to Sullinger’s family to express his concern and share an idea. Sullinger battled injuries and conditioning issues throughout his first three years in the NBA, and Falk believed he could benefit from a summer training with former NBA coach John Lucas.

But there was a sense that Sullinger would be reluctant to enter a summer-long program focused mostly on diet, conditioning, and weight loss. So Falk suggested a kind of family intervention that would include Sullinger’s parents and brother Julian, as well as Lucas, Falk, and Falk’s partner at his agency, Danielle Cantor.


The plan was for Falk to request a meeting with Sullinger at a downtown Columbus, Ohio, restaurant, and when Sullinger arrived, the others would be there. Sullinger’s father, Satch, said they used the element of surprise because if Jared had known what was coming, it would have given him time to think of reasons to decline Lucas’s offer.

But by the time Satch Sullinger got to the restaurant on that May afternoon, a new plan already was being assembled. Jared hadn’t shown up, so Falk told the group they would go to his apartment instead. Satch and wife Barbara joined Falk and Cantor in one car while Julian Sullinger drove Lucas in another.

“At first when we all got there, he was like, ‘What’s going on? Why are all of y’all here?’ ” Satch Sullinger said by telephone Friday. “He thought just David was coming. He didn’t know David was coming with the entourage.”

In the apartment, Sullinger’s family and Falk mostly ceded the floor to Lucas, who has extensive experience as a trainer and a motivational speaker, and as a resource for athletes who have battled addiction.

“It was almost like ‘Dr. Phil’ that day,” Satch Sullinger said. “Are you going to accept this help or not?”


Lucas’s message to Sullinger was simple.

“You have all the talent in the world,” he said. “But you forgot what working hard is.”

It wasn’t just about eating right and exercising; it was about being accountable. It was about things like meeting people at a restaurant at 3:30 when you say you will. The fact that Lucas had traveled all the way from Houston to offer his help resonated with Sullinger.

Lucas eventually asked Sullinger if he would come to Texas, if he would dedicate himself to the program. Sullinger did not hesitate in saying yes.

It had been important to have family members at the meeting to show support, but Lucas made it clear that to truly be invested in his program, Sullinger would have to be more isolated.

“John said he didn’t want any family or anything in Houston,” Satch Sullinger said. “He said he just wanted it to be him and Jared, and we honored that. I didn’t even contact Jared during that time. I had to become part of the solution.”

Sullinger said he was in Houston for two weeks in June, two weeks in July, most of August, and three weeks in September. He had individual meals prepared for him. He boxed and swam and worked out on a track.

On the court, Lucas pushed Sullinger to assert himself as a post player rather than simply settling for 3-pointers. But there also were long stretches in which Sullinger didn’t even touch a basketball.


“I think John’s biggest focus was to not let me make a mistake,” Sullinger said. “Sometimes it’s not always drugs, it could be other things. And he wanted to just clear my mind and understand that I can be whoever I want to be. I’ve just got to make the right choices. And being there with John really helped.”

On Friday, Sullinger said he lost weight this summer but declined to give a specific figure. But he said this is the best he has ever felt, emotionally and physically, at the start of a season.

“You can’t really say I’m where I want to be as far as conditioning-wise, because I haven’t played five-on-five in like three weeks,” he said. “So, you never know. There’s a difference between being in the best shape you can be, practice-wise, and then there’s game shape. So we’ll see when that happens. But as far as me being where I want to be, I’m not there yet, but I’m closer than you’ll imagine.”

Of course, all the workouts, interventions, and diet changes won’t mean very much if they don’t lead to a sustained change, and Sullinger understands that.

In interview sessions this week, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens have mostly deflected questions about Sullinger’s changed physique.

When Ainge was asked about Sullinger’s weight loss, he quipped: “I don’t know. I haven’t weighed him.”

But both have made it clear that he can be an important part of this season, an important part of this franchise.


Sullinger is eligible for a contract extension before the Oct. 31 deadline, and Ainge has had preliminary discussions with Falk about that. Still, the Celtics might hesitate to offer a new deal to a player who ignites questions about his commitment.

“I feel great, but like I said, I can’t get comfortable,” Sullinger said. “I’ve just got to keep going.”

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.