Former Syracuse Star Chris McCullough Reflects on First NBA Season

Former Syracuse star forward Chris McCullough discusses his first year in the NBA, his time at Syracuse and some advice he gave to Malachi Richardson.

Chris McCullough left Syracuse after playing for the Orange for only part of one season. He left to pursue a career in the National Basketball Association, and his talents were rewarded by being selected in the first round of the draft by the Brooklyn Nets.

During his first season as a professional, McCullough played in 24 games, starting four. He averaged 4.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 15 minutes per game while shooting 40.4% from the field. 

"For me it was fun," McCullough said. "Getting to learn and learn from NBA guys. Playing and competing. Just getting back to the game."

McCullough's first year at Syracuse was cut short due to a torn ACL suffered against Florida State on January 11, 2015. It took him over a full year to get back to full health. Once he did, he worked his way into the rotation with the Nets. On February 8, 2016, he entered an NBA game for the first time.

McCullough even made his first shot, a mid-range jumper. 

"It was definitely a big moment for me," he said. "Hearing my name get called, especially early in the game and getting a standing ovation from the crowd. Finally hitting my first bucket on my first shot I took in the NBA, that was overall a great feeling."

Two months later, to the day, McCullough was put into the starting lineup for the first time. He scored 12 points on 5-9 shooting including 2-3 from three-point range. McCullough added three rebounds and three steals in his 24 minutes on the floor.

"There wasn't really a message," McCullough said. "They had team meetings in the morning. I knew Brook (Lopez) and Thad(deus Young) were out, so I knew at some point they were going to give me a starting position before the end of the season. I was ready for it. I took it on and I played great."

McCullough says the biggest improvement he noticed in his game during his first season in the NBA was his jumpshot. He says his jumper is more consistent and he has more range than he did in college. Given that McCullough shot 38% from beyond the arc, the numbers seem to prove his point. 

Going into his second season, McCullough is focused on improving his low post game in order to develop a strong inside-outside combination to his skill set. 

"Definitely I kept up with them," McCullough said. "I watched every game that they played in the tournament. I was just hoping they'd do good. They ended up doing good. They went far in the tournament and that was great for them."

One of the biggest stories of the offseason for the Orange is the status of true freshman Malachi Richardson. He has declared for the NBA Draft, though he has not hired an agent. 

McCullough was in a somewhat similar situation one year ago, deciding whether or not to return to college as opposed to going pro. Given that experience, he gave some advice to Richardson on how to go about making that decision.

"He texted me and (sought) me out to get some help and stuff," McCullough said. "I just told him to use all his sources. Ask coaches, ask anybody that he knows that's in the field who knows NBA guys. Gather all the information you could before making a final decision.

"At the end of the day, it's his decision and he's going to do what's best for him." 

The 6-foot-11 forward also took some time to reflect on his time at Syracuse. He says he has no regrets and would not change anything about his time there (other than the injury of course), but leaves with only fond memories. 

"What I remember the most is catching a few alley-oops man," McCullough said. "That was just fun. Playing in the Dome with the fans, it was just overall fun."

McCullough says he remains in contact with the Syracuse coaching staff and texts with them on a regular basis.


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