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Don't sleep on Chris McCullough

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Chris McCullough played 16 games for Syracuse before a torn right ACL forced him to miss the remainder of his freshman season. It was ugly to watch...

"Worst pain I felt thus far…#theysleep," was his message on Instagram the following morning. It was the first time McCullough used the hashtag, "they sleep."  It would not be the last.  In fact, it seems it's his mantra, his driving force. Let others sleep on him.  He knows how good he can be.

Coming out of high school, McCullough was a five star recruit. ranked by ESPN at #7, by Scout:at #16, and by Rivals at #13. As a freshman at Syracuse, McCullough started out like a house on fire at Syracuse, averaging 16.4 points in his first seven games and shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor, but then tailed off as the schedule got tougher, averaging 9.3 points and 6.9 rebounds in 28 minutes per game before he went down.

Still, he established himself as one of the most important players on the team and some scouts saw McCullough as a first round lottery pick.  So did he.

"I think that a lot of my skills transfer to the NBA," he said before the Draft. "I can run the floor, rebound, and have the size to be a good defender in the league. I can also shoot from long distance and have a solid face-up game."

However, unsure of when he would return to the court, NBA scouts questioned McCullough’s decision to enter the 2015 draft.  He had his answer then and now.


A photo posted by Chris McCullough (@briskuno) on

"#THEYSLEEP" became McCullough’s motivation during his rehab and he uses it as a caption for his Instagram photos and tweets.  But for a while, his rehab, not his potential, became the story.

On Draft Night, after the Nets picked him at No. 29, ESPN’s Chad Ford, wrote that McCullough was "likely" to be out for the upcoming season. Meanwhile, McCullough was telling Nets beat writers he had targeted November for a return to full contact practice. Now, it appears the player was right, the pundit wrong.

There is no clear timetable on McCullough’s return but November appears to be about right.  How good can he be?  Will the Nets have a skillful forward that can stretch the floor?

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal's Alex Raskin, Syracuse coach Jim Boehim gave his assessment,: "[McCullough] can shoot it, play outside, he can rebound, he’s long, [and] he’s an ideal four man in the NBA ...Now it’s just a question of getting stronger. You got to be stronger to play in the NBA and I think when he gets to that point, he can play anybody."

On Draft Night, his pick was greeted with cheers by the Brooklyn fans at Barclays that night and by positive comments from ESPN's analysts.

Despite all his tools, most scouts feel he needs to focus on certain aspects of his game before he can become a solid contributor for the Nets. During McCullough’s freshman season at Syracuse, he did not absorb contact well --he hasn't put on any appreciable weight since his junior year in high school -- and shot only 47.3% at the rim. At 6'10" (or 6'11") and 200 pounds, McCullough had trouble keeping his man off the glass and fighting his opponent off the block last season.

Most scouts feel that if he gains more strength and muscle, he can silence the criticism, but it may take some time. A number of them thought he came out too early, with too little experience.  The Nets were not among them. After the Draft, more than one draftnik noted that the Nets had given McCullough a guarantee back in the spring. If he was on the board when they picked, they would take him.

He even hinted about it in this Instagram post a few weeks before the Draft.

Another one down, thanks for having me learned a lot from the organization it's all love. @Brooklynnets

A photo posted by Chris McCullough (@briskuno) on

In fact, he kept dropping hints right up to the Draft.  "If I get drafted to the Brooklyn Nets, I want to bring home a NBA championship to my hometown," the Bronx native told Nets Daily News. McCollough also told Nets Daily News in early June. "The Nets felt like home to me"

McCullough will be the first player from New York City to play for the Brooklyn Nets, something the Bronx native is well aware of.

"Just coming from the Bronx to Brooklyn—a different borough in the NBA is a dream come true," McCullough said in a video for NBA TV. He's also among the youngest players to ever be drafted by the Nets in either New Jersey or Brooklyn.  He's the youngest player drafted since Derrick Favors in 2010 and Favors was the second youngest Net ever.

There are doubts about what his production will be like once he returns, about how long it will take him to be in NBA shape and ultimately become an offensive force in the NBA. Boeheim has said what he thinks about McCullough's timetable ... and eventual prospects.

"It was an enlightened move to draft him. In 2 to 3 years, he is going to be a front line player in the NBA,"  Boeheim told SiriusXM NBA Radio last month.

After the Draft, asked what NBA player is his role model as he enters the NBA, McCullough said it's LaMarcus Aldridge.

For now, he and rookie teammate Rondae Hollis-Jefferson make the rounds together. McCullough is more "reserved" than his rookie counterpart, whose personality just pops. Take a look at this Nets video of their introduction to Brooklyn.

Quiet or not, McCullough is committed, to his rehab and his community.  He is running his own camp this week in his old neighborhood.  On the front of each kid's jersey is "Chris McCullough Baskeball Clinic." On the back, "THEY SLEEP."

Shouts to @cporter_ A few hours with the kids in my community, just trying to change lives and motivate #theysleep

A video posted by Chris McCullough (@briskuno) on

"I can’t wait to get back on the floor," said McCullough.  In others, No Sleep till Brooklyn.