I've been asked on this site before to stop telling people how to feel, so I won't do that here. But I will request to limit a certain behavior that's become far too common around these parts in recent years.
I'm talking, of course, about rooting against our own players.
When word came out last week from Chad Ford that NBA execs are pretty high on Chris McCullough, it wasn't much of a surprise. The kid is averaging 15.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and has 15 blocks in six games. He's scored in double figures every game so far and simply looks the part of a budding star.
Yeah, he's listed generously at 220 lbs., and that was likely after eating a Delmonico's steak and stuffing railroad spikes in his pockets, but even the most cynical SU fan can see the three things scouts covet the most: length, athleticism and potential.
What happens next highlights the problem with being a college basketball fan in the one-and-done world we live in today. We fall in love with a player, watch him flash that potential, and then see them go off to the NBA before we really get to reap the benefits (unless you're a Kentucky fan).
We want you to be a superstar, but unless you bring home a championship in that superstar year (Hi Carmelo!), it almost feels like a waste. And in a year like this, which certainly seems like a rebuilding year, we want McCullough to be great, but not too great, so he will stay. It's a tough situation.
No one fuels this quite like James Arthur Boeheim, and unfortunately far too many fans take their cues from him. Honestly, Boeheim may just be saying this to keep McCullough grounded. He could be worried his head is getting too big and needs him to stay focused as the competition gets tougher - which not so coincidentally starts in the next game on Tuesday. That's just coaching.
And this is where we all have a decision to make regarding the rest of the season:
- Do you root for McCullough to continue to impress, but ultimately go on to the NBA after just one year?
- Do you root for him to struggle ... just a little bit ... so he sticks around for another year and joins up with a big recruiting class for a championship run next year?
It's really not an easy choice, and I won't tell you what to do. But I will give you three reasons why I'm going with Option No. 1:
There's about a 90% chance he's already gone
Once the NBA scouts get guys like McCullough on their radar, they don't just fade away. He's not shrinking from 6-10 in the next five months. His arms won't get shorter. He won't lose that athleticism.
He may not average 15 points per game when the competition ramps up. He may see his rebounds go down too - anyone else notice BJ Johnson is averaging 7.6 rebounds per game??? But as we've seen time and time again, NBA scouts aren't drafting on college stats.
The only way I see him not going pro a this point is through either a. catastrophic injury or b. complete failure and inability to handle ACC play. If it's the former, that will no doubt affect him next year so we don't want that. And if it's the latter, I think we'd all have serious doubts about him being a star as a sophomore if that's the case. So neither scenario is good for SU.
Individual success breeds more successful individuals
Yes, it would be way better if these guys stuck around and built a super team of stars, but the next best thing is to turn success into more recruiting success. Dion Waiters leads to MCW, leads to Tyler Ennis, leads to Kaleb Joseph, leads to Howard and Richardson, and so on.
It's safe to say our recent struggles with big men has probably cost us some top recruits who fancied themselves one-and-done players. Adding a PF like McCullough to our recent success at sending guards to the NBA can only help the recruiting pitch.
Top recruits want to go to the NBA as early as possible. Syracuse is a long way from Kentucky, but McCullough could be the eighth 1st-round pick since 2009, all of whom left SU early. Playing for the Orange is a pathway to the NBA, and that will bring in more NBA talent.
McCullough's success is Syracuse's success this year
This is clearly a relative rebuilding year for the Orange, compared to the past few seasons. The shooting may never come around. It's hard to imagine Christmas dominating all ACC bigs. But all is not lost.
The offense never really came around in 2012-13. That team scored 66, 61, 55, and 56 points in its last four tourney games en route to a Final Four. Not saying this squad can do that this year, but you never know.
The best chance for Syracuse to have a banner year is if McCullough continues to develop into a star. If he can draw the top defender in the post, that frees up Christmas. If he can play high-low with Rak, that can create spacing even without the outside shooters. If he doesn't continue to develop, and the shooters don't get it going, it's going to be a LONG year.
The most likely scenario this year is that McCullough does his best on a flawed team that doesn't win anything, and he goes pro in the end. That may seem like a waste of a star, but it doesn't have to be for nothing.
If he's another lottery pick ... if he's another successful NBA player .... if he proves that big guys can be successful quickly at SU ... that's all only going to help us next year and in the future.
So rather than hoping he struggles and sticks around, I'm hoping he dominates and moves on. I think that's the best case scenario for everyone involved.