Boys basketball | Syracuse recruit McCullough takes advantage of new start at IMG Academy

jdill@bradenton.comMarch 6, 2014 

IMG Academy's Chris McCullough rises up for a shot during a recent practice at the Bradenton academy.Photo courtesy of IMG ACADEMY

PICASA

BAYSHORE GARDENS -- Chris McCullough's path to IMG Academy was not ideal.

The coveted basketball recruit from the Bronx was dismissed from his prep school, Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, in November for a "violation of school policy," according to multiple media reports.

So McCullough found his way to the Sunshine State

and IMG Academy, seeking a program to help him prepare for big-time college basketball.

"I kind of got in trouble and did something off the court that I wasn't supposed to do," said McCullough, who signed with national power Syracuse. "I got in trouble for that, but I'm responsible for my actions."

In recent years, the private sports academy in Manatee County has landed basketball players such as DeAndre Daniels (Connecticut) and Kamari Murphy (Oklahoma State) who have played a post-graduate year before a transition into Division I college basketball.

With McCullough, the transition was easy.

"He had to conform to us," said IMG Academy post-grad head coach John Mahoney about McCullough's arrival around Thanksgiving. "We met with him, and that was the first conversation I had with him: 'I have a good team, don't screw it up. All right, you're coming in here and you're not starting. You have to earn your way.' ... I think he appreciated it and has worked hard. And he earned it in the second semester."

The 6-foot-9, 210-pounder just played with the Ascenders in the National Prep Championship in New Haven, Conn. The eight-team invitational tournament saw McCullough drop in 26 points in the opener as IMG (26-3) advanced to the semifinals, where it fell 93-86 on Wednesday to third-ranked St. Thomas More of Connecticut.

McCullough entered the event averaging 18.25 points a game.

"I like to get the ball and attack the rim," McCullough said. "I'm more of a mid-range player, rebound (and) block shots."

But prior to his arrival at IMG, the dismissal from Brewster -- the exact nature of the violation hasn't been reported -- McCullough's character was in question.

However, the star recruit has put the incident behind him and is flourishing at IMG Academy.

"Very explosive, a high riser," Mahoney said. "He can really fly. He's gotten a lot better shooting. I think it's the thing that he'll have next year that he probably wouldn't have until he got there."

For this season, McCullough said he needs to keep working on his game and fill out his frame a bit. At 210 pounds, he expects to bulk up heading to Syracuse later this year. At IMG, McCullough plays some zone defense in addition to man to man. The former isn't the 2-3 zone employed by Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, but the experience he has gained can only help McCullough's transition into college.

McCullough, who entered this week's tournament averaging 8.25 rebounds a game, doesn't miss a game when the Orange take the court. An ardent fan of the program he'll suit up for next season, McCullough is relishing the chance to play in the Carrier Dome in upstate New York in front of a packed house like he saw on TV when Syracuse played Duke in a January game where an on-campus attendance record of 35,466 was set.

"That's the fun part," McCullough said. "Going there and playing when it's packed. Basically even regular games, they'll get 25,000 fans. ... So I'm ready to play in front of that."

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