Grantland: Big Man, Little Man

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Boston's Jared Sullinger and Utah's Trey Burke.Jared Sullinger and Trey Burke -- close friends and basketball soul mates since they were little kids -- are thriving in the NBA. From Grantland's Jonathan Abrams:

They didn’t think much of each other at first.

“When I first saw Jared, he was kinda fat,” Trey Burke said. “Like, he was big.”

“Oh man,” said Jared Sullinger. “Crying, whiny, always frustrated. He never liked to lose.”

Benji Burke went to Northwest Missouri State, where he set the school’s (since broken) steals record during the 1989-90 season. When he returned to Columbus to start his family, he taught his son to play the game the same way he did.

“Trey, you’re the smallest guy on the court,” he’d tell him. “The only way you’re going to get the ball, is you’ve got to steal the ball.”

Trey took to the game quickly. His thefts became so prevalent that one league created a rule that he had to stay behind the line until the opposition passed midcourt. When he began to form a team, Benji Burke could hardly find a third-grader who could keep up with his son. By then, “Sullinger” and “basketball” had become synonymous in Columbus. Satch’s oldest son, J.J., had played shooting guard at Ohio State. Satch coached his middle son, Julian, at Columbus’s Northland High School. Julian later played at Kent State. Benji Burke knew of J.J. He had seen Julian play. But he didn’t know Satch’s youngest boy, Jared. The first thing Benji noticed was Jared’s belly — he’d labored after a couple of runs back and forth. But he marveled at young Sullinger’s nimbleness. Satch had Jared performing footwork drills by the age of 2 and shooting regulation free throws by 3. For a big kid, he moved like a dancer.

“Jared was huge,” Burke said. “Not just tall, but he was 200-plus pounds, and when he got it on the block, his footwork was very, very advanced. Drop step either way, using both hands, smacking the glass on his layups. And we’re talking a fourth-grader who was probably as big as most of the eighth- or ninth-graders.”

(Read full story on Grantland)