The 6-foot-5, 185-pound shooting guard from Portage, Michigan by way of Alabama was a very under the radar signing by coach Wyking Jones. However, While at Portage Central, Austin McCullough broke the 1,000-point threshold and became the leading scorer in the school's history. What contributed to his record-setting high school career? Let's take a look at some tape to find out.
The first thing that is noticeable is McCullough's ability to create his own shot. This is an absolutely necessary addition, as the departure of Guards Charlie Moore and Jabari Bird left this area of the California Golden Bears offense looking fragile. McCullough doesn't seem to rely on forcing drives to the rim as a way to create his own shot; instead, he seems equally comfortable taking midrange jumpers. Looking at the 1:07 mark of this video we see him isolated with a single defender, as he begins to drive towards the basket he has the first defender beat, but sees the other defender in position to make a drive to the basket difficult. He capitalizes on the first defender's lack of balance to spin and create loads of space for him to get off a virtually uncontested midrange shot. This is very much something that Charlie Moore was able to do last year, and adding a shooter that not only possess this skill but can consistently execute puts pressure on teams to consider double teaming him, opening up the rest of our new offense.
At the 1:15 mark we see two plays in which he shows little hesitancy to catch and shoot from the 3-point line. He has a clean shot with fluid mechanics that seem to come naturally to him. With the departure of Grant Mullins and the loss of recruit Trevin Knell, this will again be a welcome addition.
What he also shows in this video is his ability to finish at the rim. Having an additional guard like Don Coleman, who isn't afraid to get a little beat up on the inside and can finish well, stretches the floor even more.
Now looking at his “Senior Year Highlights” video, one of my worries was quickly put to bed. At the 0:18 mark he begins an offensive fast break. Aside from the nimble ball handling what caught my attention was his willingness to pass the ball. To me, implied in setting the school record for scoring at the high school level would be a mildly selfish scorer. However, once McCullough gets into the key and draws the four defenders, he passes to his open teammates rather than force a shot. Not only is this unselfish basketball, but also it is efficient and smart basketball. With the loss of Charlie's brilliant court vision, seeing a play like this makes me a little more hopeful for the next few years.
Further along in the video, around the 1:52 mark we see a good example of his off the ball movement as well. He appears to go backdoor on his defender, but then runs up the lane and splits the two other defenders. His teammates set screens and reward him with a wide-open look from behind the arc.
Now, while these videos are obviously "Highlights," they do provide something to look forward to. What most excites me about McCullough is the roundness of his scoring abilities. He doesn't seem married to any particular shot and looks to be comfortable from both inside and outside the arc. Seeing him abandon his shot from outside the arc to step just inside and reset his feet for a better look is comforting. Although losing Knell was unfortunate, his game was primarily from beyond the arc, whereas McCullough seems to proffer a skillset that includes but is not limited to the outside shot.
Where my concerns lie are with his defense. Even though someone like Charlie was generally excellent offensively, his defensive shortcomings were highlighted as the season progressed. This made him a liability. However, when asked what he thought caught Coach Jones’ attention, McCullough replied, “He liked my toughness and the way I shot the ball.” Only time will tell what the future holds for him, but for now, I am bullish on McCullough and what he brings to the table.
What are your thoughts Bears?