From the very beginning, Jim Boeheim has thought big things lie ahead for freshman Chris McCullough.
Boeheim said back in April that McCullough had "unlimited potential." And when asked what the legendary coach had told him, McCullough admitted that even Jimmy B expected his time as a member of the Syracuse Orange to be brief.
He said he saw me as a one-and-done player. He didn’t see me staying here more than two years at most. He said I’d have to put in a lot of hard work, but he was willing to work with me. That’s a good position that I’m in.
Gerry McNamara echoed the sentiment, saying McCullough has "as much potential as anybody we've been around."
Six games into the season, McCullough is making good on that potential, averaging 15.3 PPG and 8.5 RPG, both second on the squad. There's a decent chance that as the season progresses and opponents try to lock down on Rakeem Christmas, he will emerge as the No. 1 offensive threat.
So it's no real surprise to hear, from ESPN's Chad Ford that McCullough is almost unanimously viewed as a lottery pick by NBA scouts. Obviously, we're far enough away from the draft to know that's not even close to being set in stone. And as guys like Tyler Ennis, Jerami Grant and Kris Joseph can tell you, there's a big difference between what people say and what actually happens.
As we all know, because we've been over this enough times, the NBA draft is not about college stats, it's about potential. And Chris McCullough is a 6'10", 220-pound walking, talking piece of potential. He is exactly the kind of talent that gets drafted in the first round even as he's still developing over a proven senior who has already topped out.
So we all know this and we're all on the same page that McCullough is probably gone after this season, top-ten pick or not. We're all just gonna stay on the same page and just hope Chris can work some magic before he goes.
"I've talked to 10 pro scouts," Boeheim said. "Not one of them thought that Chris McCullough was a first-round pick. So who he's talking to? I have no idea. When you print that stuff, people read it. Parents read that."
"You keep looking at what Chris (SIC) Ford says," Boeheim said. "He's a smart guy. He knows exactly who is going to get drafted. This is what parents do. Parents quote to me all the time, 'He's in the top 10 of the draft board.' Oh yeah? 'He's the 14th pick in the draft.' Yeah?"
"Quote (from) last year," Boeheim said. "Well, he's in the top 10 in the draft board, that's why he's going to go. I said, 'On whose draft board? ESPN?' They do not have a team. They do not have a team at ESPN. That's the kind of misinformation that gets kids thinking about things and parents thinking about things that make no sense, whatsoever."
"I'm 6-10, I'm playing against 6-3 guys, I think I should be able to get 14 points," Boeheim said. "I think. I think that should be something I can accomplish. Maybe I couldn't now. Maybe I could only get 10. Just let the kids play. Let them play."
Boeheim already has a recent history of getting himself into trouble talking about his player's prospects in the NBA and whether or not they should stay in school instead. And depending on how you want to read things, you can either say that Boeheim was right (Tyler Ennis is in the D-League, Jerami Grant's ability remains TBD) or that it's none of Boeheim's business to begin with.
NBC Sports has already taken Boeheim to task for being selfish about McCullough. It's the same stuff as last year. Boeheim is only saying this to keep players at Syracuse longer for his own benefit. Boeheim doesn't care about what's best for his players. Rinse and repeat.
I have to admit, my initial reaction was along the same lines. I mean, it's hard to think Boeheim doesn't know McCullough is going to be a hot commodity next year. But it was when I read that last quote that I changed my mind about why Boeheim was so fired up about this...
"Just let the kids play. Let them play."
I think that Boeheim is just fed up with how sped up the entire college-to-NBA cycle has become and how accepted it is to openly discuss a freshman's NBA value six games into his college career. It's something we've seen come out in recent years in interviews and it's something he really harped on in his book.
I'm not gonna say that Boeheim doesn't want Chris McCullough to come back for a sophomore season. He's be nuts not to. But I honestly don't think Boeheim is the cold-hearted jerk people want him to be. I think he just wants to spend a year making Chris a better player and seeing how whether or not he's the kind of talent good enough to take this team into the NCAA Tournament, and THEN he's happy to talk about the NBA and whether or not the kid is ready.
That's not possible, of course. And Boeheim is never going to accept that, least not fully. So it seems we're all at an impasse.
Expect this to be an ongoing issue for Boeheim and the media. His recruiting classes continue to be world class, which means he's going to have a lot of one-year and two-year talent. NBA folks are going to gush and talk about that talent while they're still wearing
orange platinum uniforms. Boeheim will see this and seethe.
Rinse and repeat.