Exclusive: McCullough thriving overseas, still eyes NBA

At age 24, Chris McCullough has not given up on returning to the NBA.

At just 24, Chris McCullough is already a seasoned veteran in professional basketball. He was a five-star recruit in high school and chose to play college basketball at Syracuse University. Even with an ACL injury at the time, the Brooklyn Nets still chose him with their first-round pick (29th overall) in the 2015 NBA Draft.

After two seasons with the Nets, some time with the Washington Wizards, multiple G-League teams and professional squads overseas, McCullough has endured a lot of valuable experiences before age 25.

Currently, he is Manila, where his team (San Miguel Beermen) is in the finals against another former NBA player’s team (Talk N Text), led by Terrence Jones, with whom he shares a trainer.

“It’s my first playoff run out here,” McCullough said. “Being able to help my team get here was also a big accomplishment, too.”

Sticking in the NBA can sometimes be about fit more than pure talent, and in his case, the talent has always been there. However, a lot of his early teams featured a lengthy list of veterans that could play as good role models but hinder his playing time.

“I always had veterans on my team, so I never really got the minutes that I deserve or I needed,” McCullough said. “I’m happy where I’m at now my game’s taking off. I’m helping my team get to the finals, hopefully, win a championship out here.”

At 6-foot-9, he is the perfect size of a modern-day power forward in the NBA. However, the game of basketball has changed. These days, the forwards have to be lethal shooters if they want to fit into an offensive scheme. During his rookie season with the Nets, McCullough played an NBA career-best 15.1 minutes per game and shot better than 38 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

Shooting from distance has never been a weakness for him.

“I always had that in my arsenal,” he said. “I always worked on it, it’s something I do more now.”

McCullough has also been working on his overall game, such as isolation situations where he has improved his ball-handling, finishing with contact and of course, continuing to progress with his shooting.

This season alone, McCullough has been to China, Puerto Rico and the Philippines and while he isn’t in the NBA, he is playing high-level basketball getting to see the rest of the world.

“I’m a journeyman right now,” he said.

He may be a journeyman, but he is unique.

At not even 25, McCullough can carry these experiences with him to help him grow as a person and a player. For reference, McCullough is the same age as NBA players such as Josh Hart, Zach LaVine, Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, all players deemed to be young with a long career ahead of them.

In McCullough’s career, he has gone a different route but learned plenty of invaluable lessons.

“You’ve gotta be mentally tough for this, too,” he said. “You might be in a country where no one speaks your language, and it’s hard out there you might not get paid on time.”

Next season, he has signed a lucrative contract to play with KGC in Korea, but his ultimate goal is to return to the NBA.

“I think I took this year to recreate myself again,” McCullough said.

He says he still talks to old teammates like Jarrett Jack daily, Joe Johnson a couple of times a month and guys from the Wizards such as John Wall. He always has a good relationship with all of his teammates and wants to be known as a hard worker.

Even though his route was not the same as his peers, McCullough’s career has made him a better person on and off the floor. The next time he gets his shot at the NBA, he will be more than ready.

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