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Celtics' Sullinger embraces role as a leader in the community

Posted by David D'Onofrio  June 17, 2013 12:00 PM

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SLF CCD Painting

Jared Sullinger and Walter McCarty are joined at Victory Programs' ReVision Family Home by Sun Life Senior Vice President of Operations David Healy.

As the Celtics' young power forward carefully edged his brush along a stretch where the wall met the ceiling, adding a fresh coat of paint to one room in the Victory Programs' ReVision Family Home in Dorchester, he wore the same color as a lot of what he's worn since becoming a pro last June. His shirt was green.

Most days, the identifier stretching between his shoulder blades says, "Sullinger."

This recent Friday, however, it said, "Volunteer."

Both are plenty appropriate and applicable.

Jared Sullinger was born, raised, and went to college in Columbus, Ohio, and it hasn't yet been a year since the Celtics brought him to Boston by tabbing him with the 21st pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. But in that short period of time Sullinger has embraced his new home with open arms, becoming a frequent participant in the team's community forays -- and perhaps becoming a prominent public face of a franchise that may be in full-blown transition any day now.

"It means a lot to me, personally," the 21-year-old said after joining almost 100 Sun Life Financial employees, members of the Celtics' front office, and Boston Cares at the Dorchester event where the group undertook a variety of maintenance and service projects at the home that serves a stabilizing shelter for 22 homeless women who have young families or are expectant mothers.

Hall of Famer Robert Parish also made an appearance, while former Celtic Walter McCarty joined Sullinger in painting the hallways and common areas and doing some minor repairs, redecorating, and putting together some furniture. Volunteers also brought in TVs and computers, as well as planted plants and vegetables in the ReVision Urban Farm.

Just a couple weeks earlier, McCarty and Sullinger teamed up to talk to more than 1,500 Boston middle school students as the Celtics celebrated the 22nd season of their "Stay in School" initiative. A few days later, Sullinger manned the register at a Revere Taco Bell that was pledging the proceeds from sales of $1 Doritos Locos Tacos to the One Fund Boston. Then a few days after that, the forward signed autographs and hung out with the kids as the Celtics and City Year staged a carnival to celebrate the "Step Your Game Up" program.

Back surgery officially ended Sullinger's rookie season in February, though prior to that he found plenty of time to support causes including Special Olympics, the Boys and Girls Club Music Clubhouse, Read to Achieve, Rosie's Place, and Boston Children's Hospital among others, and to make numerous visits to area schools on behalf of the team. In January he also hosted his own clothing drive, asking C's fans to donate to Goodwill -- and they responded, coming from all across New England to drop off almost 11,000 pounds worth of Goodwill in less than two hours.

"I think it's big-time for them," Sullinger said of getting to meet people in and around the city, "but it's more exciting to me because I live for stuff like this."

Sullinger's community service was lauded during his days at Ohio State, and throughout those two years his coach often took advantage of every opportunity to heap praise upon the way the burly forward was raised by his parents. The go-to example to illustrate his proper upbringing has become the tale of how Jared's dad Satch, who was his high school hoops coach, benched his son for a playoff game because the sophomore Sullinger was placed on academic probation. His team lost that game, ending its season -- but Jared still remembers the lesson learned in letting down his teammates that day, and relayed that story once more while addressing the middle schoolers at Matthews Arena in May.

He has said his parents also taught him how to avoid trouble -- and Sullinger now wants to help others do the same. He may not have been through some of the same things as some of the more disadvantaged people he meets in his community appearances, but he is nevertheless familiar with their stories.

"I have a connection with a community like this," he said in Dorchester. "Where I grew up, it really wasn't healthy as far as living arrangements (for) people you see outside, so I know what type of situations people go through, and for me to get out here -- especially in Boston."

And so as much as their basketball team, Boston has become a beneficiary of Sullinger's draft day slide, when 20 times the talents of a two-time All-American were passed over because clubs had concerns about the health of his back. The Celtics ultimately decided he was a worthwhile risk, and if his first half-season is any indication, he may have enough ability to be part of their foundation on the court.

Off the court, there's even less of a question. Last winter, as the Red Sox looked to publicly move past the mess over the previous season, they frequently sent the fresh face of Will Middlebrooks to community events -- intentionally or unintentionally giving the impression that he was a major building block of their brand moving forward.

Based on the past month, it seems Sullinger is on his way to becoming that same sort of ambassador for the Celtics in their efforts to make an impact the way McCarty described earlier this month.

"It's very important," the forward said after the Victory Programs event. "As a kid I was very fortunate to have people who always were around when times wasn't so well. It's great to come out in the community and show people that you care.

"People support us in our career during the year and during the season, and we want to make sure that we're doing the same thing for them."

Not even a year since coming to Boston, that's something the Celtic wearing "Sullinger" across his back certainly seems to understand.

STON9348.JPG

McCarty and Sullinger stand with Sun Life employee Viola Adami.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Dave D'Onofrio follows Boston's pro players away from the field, court or ice, covering their interests and activities in the community and beyond. A Massachusetts native, once his dreams of More »

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