With the departures of both CJ Fair and Jerami Grant, there are plenty of questions in the Syracuse frontcourt heading into the 2014-15 season. For many Orange fans, the answer to most of those questions could come in the form of 6-foot-10 Chris McCullough, a guy Jim Boeheim recently described as having “unlimited potential.” Now that word is coming out McCullough has met all potential eligibility concerns, it’s time to look ahead to just how enormous that potential is.
You guys may not realize this, but Jim Boeheim isn’t someone who throws around compliments particularly easily or often. In recent years he has said that Dion Waiters was perhaps the most talented guard he’d ever recruited, and that Tyler Ennis was the most ready point guard he had ever brought in. So far we haven’t seen much to contradict either of those statements, which means that it’s time to get excited about what McCullough can bring to the table.
And let’s not kid ourselves here, his seat at the table has been well established since pretty much the moment he committed. Back then, he was a top-10 national prospect and has only recently slid in the rankings because of questions surrounding his departure from Brewster Academy, and the notion among some scouts that he tends to sleepwalk a little bit during games. But the one thing everyone can agree on is that there’s a basketball monster lurking somewhere in that long, athletic frame.
If you’ve never seen McCullough play, or watched any of his highlights, he’s an outstanding athlete with size and agility. He’s explosive and can really get out and run in transition, and loves to finish with authority on alley oops and putbacks. But he’s not just an athlete, either. He’s shown some pretty strong signs of being able to put the ball on the floor well for a guy his size, and he’s got a good enough shooting stroke to be able to knock down midrange jumpers and the occasional three. To put it another way, he’s coming in as a better shooter than Jerami Grant ever became in his two seasons at Syracuse, with similar athleticism.
That’s not to take anything away from Grant, either, mind you. It’s just to let you know that in McCullough, the Orange are getting a guy who, if he puts everything together, could be a top-5 pick in the NBA draft sooner rather than later. In addition to his somewhat raw, but very apparent offensive skills, he’s also got the potential to be an intimidating shot blocker on the collegiate level. Between his size, length, footwork, and explosive leaping ability, there’s a real chance he’s going to make driving the lane against the 2-3 zone a genuine nightmare for a lot of folks.
Strength is a concern as he transitions from high school to the highest level of Division I basketball, but he’s hovering around 225 and has the type of frame to put on another 15 pounds of muscle without losing any of his quickness or leaping ability. If he can get to around 240 by the time the season rolls around, and continue to hone his offensive skills, watch out.
Now, some folks have attributed his recent slide in the national rankings to a lack of fire that has led to a lack of overall progression over the last couple of years. There are those who feel like he’s kind of gotten lackadaisical in his approach and that’s caused his development as a player to stall out a bit, and that could very well be true. Again, though, we’re looking at the potential that McCullough brings to the Orange roster, and at this point that potential makes him arguably the most intriguing recruit that Syracuse has nabbed since a certain Baltimore swingman rolled into town in 2002.
But here, take a look for yourself: