Chris McCullough remembers what he thought when he fell in one of his first games as a Syracuse freshman, blowing out his knee.
"I thought I had dislocated my knee but when I couldn't pop it back in --that's what I tried to but couldn't do it. -- I tried to get up and walk on it, but couldn't do it. It felt like I was walking on fire," he told Cassy Athena, an independent film maker in a YouTube video released this month.
"Next day, I had an MRI and somebody told me, it was an ACL. That whole week, my knee was so swollen I couldn't walk. I couldn't do anything. I was in bed for the whole week. Had to get up, have rehab, have surgery, have rehab when I came back."
He thought his basketball career might be over at age 19.
"I was nervous. I thought it was over for me," he said, making a cutting motion. "Every ball player's knee. No one would wish that on anybody, to have their knee blown out. I thought it was over for me. But then, I started rehabbing, working had to come back. I saw it coming back a little."
He read and re-read a Players Tribune piece by Shaun Livingston, who career almost ended at a similar age. Before the draft, he rehabbed at the Hospital for Special Surgery, where his operation took place, then after the Nets took him, he was rehabbing at the Nets practice facilities, first in East Rutherford, then in Brooklyn. His reputation as a player seriously trying to work his way back grew. (It helped to have Nick Resavy, another Orangeman, working with him.}
Friends think that the aftermath of the injury --the recovery and multiple rehabs-- has given him more maturity, more desire. And they say, he would agree.
"I felt I had an opportunity to do it, so it worked out in my favor," as he told Athena.
He's still working hard, even after finally making his debut in March and playing well enough to give fans hope for the future. .
"My summer has been coming along good," McCullough told the Nets website in May. "I’ve been in the gym lately, four or five days a week and sometimes going in by myself late nights to work on my game.
"Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson], Markel [Brown], Sean [Kilpatrick] and I have all been on the court competing and working hard together, trying to find a good balance," McCullough said on brooklynets.com. "We played last season together and it’s about having a better bond. Working out together is going to be a great thing for us. We keep getting better."
McCullough, last we read, was up to 218 pounds, nearing an idea for a stretch 4, more evidence of his worth ethic. It may take some time, but while that night in Syracuse may never be forgotten, its aftermath may very well be seen as a milestone.