Chris McCullough will have to step up when he steps in for the Orange in 2014.
With CJ Fair graduating and the news that Tyler Ennis plans to enter the NBA draft, Syracuse will look like a completely different team next year. Fair and Ennis were Syracuse’s only consistent scoring threats this season. Replacing those two is a serious matter Jim Boeheim must deal with this offseason. Since Syracuse was at times down right atrocious offensively this season, incoming freshman power forward Chris McCullough needs to be a part of Boeheim’s solution.
Late last year it was unclear if McCullough was even going to play basketball for Syracuse in 2014. In November he was kicked out of Brewster Academy in New Hampshire for a violation of team rules. McCullough’s specific actions that led to his dismissal are still unknown. Many speculated that his transfer of high schools midyear meant that he may not come to Syracuse on time because he would not have enough credits to graduate in the spring. Others questioned if he would even be able to find another high school to take him and allow him to play basketball after getting kicked out of Brewster so close to the start of basketball season. McCullough put all of those fears to rest and ended up enrolled at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
IMG is a prep school designed specifically for student athletes. Almost every student enrolled in the school plays a sport. Notable basketball alumni include Michael Beasley, forward for the Miami Heat, and longtime NBA big man Erick Dampier. Despite enrolling so close to the start of basketball season McCullough made a seamless transition.
On December 10 McCullough debuted for IMG after only practicing three times with his new team. He came off the bench and scored 12 points, grabbed eight rebounds and had two blocked shots in the team’s 66-47 win over Elev8 Sports Institute. McCullough impressed despite only playing in short spurts due to a lack of game fitness and not really knowing his new team’s tactics and style.
After working out and practicing with his new team McCullough mastered coach John Mahoney’s philosophy and started for IMG. The Syracuse signee had back-to-back 26-point performances in the Brewster Invitational tournament in late December. The second 26-point performance came against McCullough’s former team, Brewster Academy, in the championship game. IMG lost 95-86 in OT but it was still encouraging to see him play at such a high level.
McCullough can be a legitimate star. His body is similar to Kevin Durant’s. Both players are 6’10″ and have wingspans over seven feet. McCullough operates more in the paint than Durant does but can also step back and knock down threes. Immediately coming to Florida and starting for IMG shows how valuable of a player he is. Putting up 26 points against his former high school proves that McCullough is ready for Division I basketball. Brewster Academy won the 2014 National Prep Championship and has players planning to attend Oklahoma State and Georgetown this fall. McCullough dominated top-level competition in his senior season of high school and is ready for the ACC.
Looking at SU’s roster for next year, there is no definitive scorer. Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney and Rakeem Christmas all return for the Orange but are not premier offensive threats. Starting McCullough (or at least giving him significant minutes) allows for Boeheim to mold the power forward into the dynamic collegiate scorer SU needs. Boeheim usually does not love playing freshman, but McCullough is too skilled and will be too important to this team next season to sit on the bench.
Posted by: Connor Morrissette