McCullough preparing for the next level

Chris McCullough will be expected to contribute right away for Syracuse. How ready will he be? We spoke to his coach at IMG to find out what he's been working on and how his game is progressing.

Syracuse signee Chris McCullough ended up at IMG Academy after being kicked out of Brewster Academy for violating school rules. There was an adjustment period at his new school, according to IMG coach John Mahoney.

"Getting Chris was non-traditional," coach Mahoney said. "It's rare that you add a player midseason. You try to get used to everything around you with a new team, new coaches, new surroundings and all that. He was with us for a week and then we went to Brewster for a tournament. We came back for another week or ten days and we went on break.

"I think most of his time was just getting acclimated to everything. Once he got comfortable, the season was almost over. It was good for us and was good for him, and it continues to be good for him on and off the court with his development."

Now that the season is over, McCullough and the IMG coaches are working on getting him ready for Syracuse.

"One of the things with Chris, being 6-9 or 6-10, is you tend to play high," coach Mahoney said. "We're trying to get him to play lower. Some of the things we're working on are his shot making, perimeter shooting and ball handling. The fundamental things, and passing. Just things we've been working on all year. Now we have more time to work on those things.

"Just the fundamental things we are really, really trying to hit hard. He's doing a great job with his strength and getting bigger and stronger. He's up to, I think, 225 (pounds) I want to say. Maybe 230. He's gotten big. I keep getting on him because his legs don't look like they're getting any bigger."

Because of the defensive system IMG runs, it has given McCullough a leg up on preparing to play in the Syracuse zone.

"One of the first things when he got here was that we film practice," coach Mahoney said. "We watch film of practice the next day. One of the things we worked on was the 1-3-1 (zone). He was at the top of the 1-3-1 with his arms up. He was just huge. He made a comment, ‘wow am I big.' He didn't realize how big he is when his hands are up. He was using that big wingspan of his. Then I showed him another clip to show how small he is when he keeps his hands down.

"I don't know if he saw a lot of film of himself playing in the past, but we've done a lot more of that. When he gets big and uses his long arms and gets in his proper stance, he is special. I told him he can't play lazy in the 2-3 zone because there's a lot of different slides and rotations he will have to learn just like in our 1-3-1. But he'll have to be active and use his hands in there and anticipate. He's your typical Syracuse kid; long, athletic and bouncy."

How ready will McCullough be to contribute right away as a true freshman?

"It's going to be an adjustment," coach Mahoney said. "A lot of kids think they're ready, and I just tell them I'd like to see them at their first practice. It's going to an adjustment, but I think the sooner he adjusts the more ready he'll be. This is a key time for him, between now and when he leaves here in May. A lot of our kids really get so much better at this time. Really all they're doing is basketball. There are no games; it's all drills, weights, all skills and working on speed.

"The last couple of years I've seen so many kids get so much better. So we're going to keep working on his ball handling, his shooting because he's not consistent at it right now. We just have to get him more consistent with his shooting. But he's got the game to make an immediate impact. Around the basket at first and then stepping out as he gets more comfortable with the speed of the game."

There was some concern that because of the Brewster incident that McCullough may have some off the court issues. His coach at IMG says, however, that the five-star talent has been anything but a problem child.

"He has been absolutely awesome," coach Mahoney said. "He hasn't done anything to cause us any issues. He came here and we told him whatever happened up there happened but this is down here. I told him I will be on him and he hasn't done anything major. He was late after practice once and after practice I showed him the towel.

"I made him push the towels and after that he was never late again. In the classroom he's doing really well. We check all the time and get reports to make sure he's there doing his work and making sure his grades are on track. So he's doing really well."

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