Since the preseason there has been a lot of speculation that Chris may be a lottery pick. That was to be expected since he was a five star recruit coming out of high school ranked as the 24th best player in the country. ESPN draft expert Chad Ford thought McCullough could go as high as the number 11th pick in this upcoming 2015 NBA Draft. But In the latest mock draft standings, Ford believes that McCullough’s stock has dropped significantly after struggling in recent games now that the Orangemen are facing tougher opponents. There is no doubt that he has talent; but will it be a wise decision for him to leave after his freshman campaign and forgo his remaining three years of eligibility?
I understand the temptations that these young players are faced with, if you would like to visualize what they go through then let me explain. Say you are the face of the basketball program at your respectable college/university. After every game you deal with screaming fans that adore you, the lights and cameras are constantly flashing. You can’t walk on campus, around the mall or even go to a restaurant without seeing people wearing your jersey; asking for an autograph or will you please take a picture with them. To top it all off the school that you play for is cashing in on your name, since you have that student athlete title you can’t reap any of the profits. Imagine having that same treatment multiplied by ten as an NBA player with the potential to be a star if not a superstar; and to earn a paycheck with so many zeros in it, that a small bank may not have enough money to cash it. Now that you have an idea, lets get back to the story.
Reality: Syracuse record is 10-4. In the beginning Chris could not be stopped while facing teams such as Adrian and Kennesaw State. Now that the Orange have entered their ACC schedule, his game contributions have been almost invisible. When they played against Virginia Tech he only saw 18 minuets of action. For his playing style he has to gain at least 15-20 pounds to be a contender, especially if he wants to make it to the next level. His jumper is silky smooth which is a great sign but he is lacking that assertive, aggressive, go getter mentality. Chris is 6’10 and weighs 210 pounds so he has the speed and capability to get around defenders and draw the foul. Settling for jump shots and not driving to the basket are not doing him or his teammates any favors.
Upside: He has great length and can rebound, he definitely has the potential to become one of the best players in college basketball. Chris has been compared to Shareef Abdur-Rahim who happens to be one of my favorite NBA players of all time, even if he does not get inducted into the NBA hall of fame. I can see a few similarities between the two but I feel it is too early to make a comparison like this just yet. If Chris stays another year or two and develops his game, he can possibly become a lottery pick. You never know he just may pan out to be a better player than Shareef was, only time will tell.
The Dilemma: College sports is nothing short of a business. Coaches sell players a pipe dream and promise them the world, especially to those who grew up in poverty and are looking to take care of their family. They will tell you about the number of players that have come and gone after one year, but the sad truth is that no matter how good you are; these sports programs feel that they can always get someone better. Recruiting is their job, coaches use you to build their resumes so they can go after other top tier high school athletes. Sometimes coaches tell them even though they don’t have a scholarship to offer at the moment; one might become available if someone leaves early for the pros. I hope Chris does not become a victim of this, if he stays it will only benefit him and the Orangemen in the long run. Once he gets comfortable playing at this collegiate level, he will be a force to be reckon with.
Longevity is the key, getting that first NBA contract is nice but what so many athletes fail to realize is that getting to the second contract is very hard to do. The NBA is a different kind of animal compared to college and those coaches will not sit around; patiently waiting for your game to develop. Every player there is a professional and they won’t keep you based on potential, that is why you see a lot of guys who leave early for the draft, end up exiting the league once their first contract ends. Chris won’t start to see any real money until he gets signs a second contract, hopefully he will see this trend and decide to stay in Syracuse for a while.