ST. MARYS – They have won championships and played basketball around the world, but for one day they teamed up with area basketball players to defeat a common foe – cancer.
Former Ohio State standouts J.J. Sullinger and George Reese, along with former Columbus Northland coach Satch Sullinger, volunteered their time and resources to put on a basketball camp for 70 students to raise awareness and money for cancer research. The St. Marys Tailgate for Cancer hosted the event at Memorial High School in St. Marys on Thursday.
The St. Marys Tailgate for Cancer has raised more than $203,000 for cancer research since 2009.
James “Satchel” Sullinger, who was introduced to the game of basketball by his father Harold “Suitcase” Sullinger who played with the Sioux City, Iowa Colored Ghosts in the 1940s on an African-American team.
“We’ve all been touched by cancer,” Satch said. “I would love to see it go away. It’s serious to me.”
Satch will have a book released this fall entitled Winning with Purpose, with a share of the proceeds being donated to the Jimmy V foundation, named for former North Carolina State University basketball coach Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993 at the age of 47.
“What can I do to make this a better place?” Satch said. “Being on a team, you become a part of something bigger than you. And you learn to give.”
Satch coached the Northland to the 2009 state basketball title and uses lessons from the basketball court to teach real life lessons. His youngest son Jared plays for the Boston Celtics after being a standout for two years at Ohio State.
“It’s just reaching out and showing young people things to become a better basketball player,” Satch said. “Coming to camp doesn’t make you a better basketball player, but shows you the drills and skills. Kids need to spend time in the fundamentals. Play the game the way you live your life. When pressure hits, what comes out?”
J.J. Sullinger, Satch’s oldest son, played 94 games in his three years at Ohio State and averaged 9.9 points per game. After playing six years overseas, Sullinger currently works in real estate and is involved with nonprofit organizations in his hometown of Columbus. Despite the busy schedule Sullinger sees the importance of giving back.
“I love giving back to kids and community – it’s a good cause,” J.J. Sullinger said. “I try to do as much as I can. As a family we take it (giving back) head on in athletics and community. Help a situation, help a cause and we take it on full throttle.”
“We try to apply the game of basketball to life,” he said. “My dad tried to instill those things. Basketball does not define you. Being a good person defines you.”
Having put the professional game behind him, Sullinger has moved on to more important things.
“Family is more important than basketball,” Sullinger said. “Give up dreams to make sure my children can have theirs. It (me being home) means the world to them and to me. I know it’s the best decision.”
Battling cancer on the basketball court has filled the void for Sullinger.
“I know plenty people who have survived and some who didn’t make it,” Sullinger said. “The only way to beat it is to fund and fund raise. We’re going to find a cure. I’ll do whatever I can. I’m passionate about it. I will do anything I can do to fight this cause.”
George Reese was a member of the 1999 Final Four team and won the Big Ten championship in 2000. Reese, currently a free agent, has played both nationally and internationally, most recently in Poland where he was a three time all-star.
“This is more about awareness and we use basketball as a vehicle to raise money for a cause,” Reese said. “Something that I love to do and giving back is something to do. I’m trying to get involved with good causes. That’s how it’s supposed to be –break the cycle and raise awareness. You want kids to be better than you.”
Having lost his mother four years ago to cancer, Reese takes this battle personally.
“I do walks and golf tournaments,” Reese said. “I’m all about that. People need to do that. I want to do more.”
Reese needs four classes to obtain his degree – something he promised his mother – and is still open to another opportunity to play professionally. His first love was football, but his cousins from Lima showed him highlights of former Lima Senior and OSU standout Greg Simpson. Reese traded the cleats for sneakers and the rest is history.
New Knoxville junior Andrew Arnett jumped at the opportunity to learn from some of his heroes.
“I love basketball and it is cool to meet Sullinger and Reese,” Arnett said. “I looked up to them and watched them on TV. To be in the same gym as them is a cool experience”
Teammate and sophomore Logan Leffel echoed his statements: “I saw these guys play and hopefully I can learn here. I hope we get a lot of people here to help prevent and cure cancer. It’s for a good cause.”