This is the first part of a five-part series looking back on the college careers of the best recruit each year of the past decade that committed and played their college careers in the Big Ten. For rankings’ purposes, we used 247Sports’ Composite rankings.
2010: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Before Sullinger absolutely dominated the Big Ten, he earned the Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award in 2010 as a high school senior, on his way to being named the number 4 player in the class of 2010. This earned him an invite to the McDonald’s All-American Game in his hometown Columbus, Ohio. Sullinger ultimately decided to stay home, joining his brother J.J. at Ohio State.
Once at Ohio State, the big man lived up to his billing, averaging a double-double (17.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg) as a freshman, earning himself a First Team All-American nod by multiple media outlets. He followed up this strong showing with another All-American season in 2011-12, almost duplicating his stats from the prior year (17.5, 9.2 rpg). Buckeye fans will remember this season for a long time, as they advanced to the Final Four, eventually losing to the Thomas Robinson-led Kansas Jayhawks.
Sullinger declared for the NBA Draft after his sophomore season and was drafted by the Celtics 21st overall after a draft day slide due to concerns over his weight and back issues. Sullinger played four seasons in Boston, averaging a career-high of 13.3 ppg. He now plays in China.
Sullinger’s career can be classified as nothing if not a success. While he never got the Buckeyes a championship, he did everything he could, leading his team in scoring both years in Columbus. Buckeyes’ fans can look back on his career with no ill-will.
2011: Cody Zeller, Indiana
The youngest Zeller is considered the best of the trio of brothers that played high-end basketball. Luke played at Notre Dame, Tyler played at North Carolina, but Cody left the biggest impression on his fan base despite only playing two years in Bloomington. He came into the Big Ten as the number 10 player in his class out of Washington, IN, where he earned Indiana Mr. Basketball his senior year. Like Jared Sullinger, Cody Zeller came into his first season in the Big Ten with big expectations and he, too, did not disappoint.
Zeller earned the coaches’ nod as Big Ten Freshman of the Year after averaging 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. In fact, his 62.3% field goal percentage in 2011-12 led the Big Ten. The one thing that set Zeller apart was his ability to impact the game in so many different ways. He was the first Hoosier in 6 years to record six steals in one game, doing so against Chattanooga as a freshman.
Zeller followed up his phenomenal freshman season with another impressive showing. He and Victor Oladipo carried a talented roster to Indiana’s first outright Big Ten title since 1993. The memorable moments from this season were during their matchups with the highly-ranked Michigan Wolverines, led by future pros Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke. The Hoosiers earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, however fell to Syracuse in the Sweet 16.
Cody Zeller entered the NBA Draft after the historic sophomore season, along with Oladipo, being selected fourth overall by the Charlotte Bobcats. While he has never shown the ability to be the type of superstar to carry an NBA team, he has been a reliable piece of the roster in Charlotte, entering his seventh season. He can look back on his career knowing that he lived up to the prominent expectations and gave Indiana fans some of the more memorable seasons in recent history.