Seven years ago, Wayne McCullough (195-SG-1994, college: CCU) was living in beautiful Lakewood, Colorado that had around 155,000 inhabitants in the area and probably didn’t have too much problems navigating around the area in a car. Maybe he even took the bus to get around. 4 years ago, he probably had an even easier time getting from point A to point B in beautiful Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island which has 36,000 inhabitants. Perhaps he even had a bike there to observe the beauty of Canada to help take away from the struggles on the court where he hardly played in the Canadian NBL and might have been wondering why he chose the job professional basketball player. Today in 2022, he has way more problems trying to weave in and out of traffic in Istanbul, Turkey like the jolly frog in the legendary Nintendo game Frogger. I have never been in Istanbul, but have witnessed the craziness of driving in Buenos Aires, Argentina where you sometimes fear for your life in the small black cabs that go in and out of the seemingly trillion buses chugging up and down the street. The American has come a very long way from his days in Colorado and Canada and is playing in the top league in Turkey BSL and competing in the Basketball Champions League. The jovial forward always had talent, but his trek up the basketball ladder was never easy. In a way having these struggles may have been a blessing in disguise, because he has never lost the hunger to get closer to the peak. ‘I have always had a chip on my shoulder, I had zero offers until after my senior year of high school. Coming out of college I knew nobody and nothing about professional basketball. So, when I got my chance I knew coming from CCU (Colorado Christian University) I had to stand out some way. The hunger and willingness to do things other guys were ‘too good for’ help me get my edge. To this day, every game I feel like I have something to prove. My chip has only gotten bigger. Hopefully the steps I have taken and my path will help the next D2 guy to get to the highest level possible. Getting to play the game I love is a blessing’, stressed Wayne McCullough.
The American who remembers division 2 player Derrick White later a NBA first round pick and now of the Boston Celtics being his toughest cover in school was born on June 22, 1994 in Hockley, Texas. He attended Rosehill Christian high school and then went to Colorado Christian University from 2012-2016 playing a total of 108 games being able to improve his scoring average each season. He reached the ultimate crest in 2015 winning the NCAA 2 title. His time there was very instrumental in his development as a player and person. ‘My four years at CCU turned me into the man I am today. My coach, my teammates, and my experiences there were fun and memorable. I met my wife there, and have friendships with some of those people today. When I got there my freshman year I was just a young skinny kid who loved to play basketball. When I left I was about to get married and grew so much mentally, spiritually, and as a man. We did win the NCCAA national championship which was a fun special group, but the lessons I learned have shaped me into who I am today’, stressed Wayne McCullough. In his senior year he scored in double figures in 15 games. He had some huge games in losses scoring 27 points against Colorado Mesa and 21 points against Western State, but then exploded for 27 points in a 72-68 win against Black Hills State. One individual who was key for him becoming the player he did was head coach Kevin Lubbers. ‘Coach Lubbers was and still is one of the wisest men I know. We still talk to this day and he is someone I have in my corner helping me. For him it wasn’t about basketball. We had motivational speakers come talk to us, people who have crazy life stories, many different team bonding events that had nothing to do with basketball, etc. All these things help prepare me for life. Not just basketball, but life and the challenges it brings. He is always reminding me that basketball is what I do, not who I am’, stated Wayne McCullough. He didn’t have to think long when confronted with the who won 1-1 duels back in the day him or Ty McGhee? ‘Ty and me had some great battles back in the day. Both had our days, but I got to say I took home more wins than him’, remembered Wayne McCullough.
It is never a given for former division 2 guys to go pro. The chances in the States are minimal, because anything below NBA, G-League or NBL (Canada) won’t help earn a serious living. So players often look to go overseas. But getting there isn’t always easy. If you don’t have an agent, it gets even harder. The forward who lists Steph Curry, Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Tim Duncan, and Hakeem Olajuwo on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore always wanted to get overseas, but for him, it just took longer. He decided to stay in Noth America and toiled 4 years in Canada. Some may have thought why Europe wasn’t an option? ‘I probably get asked this question the most. What people don’t understand I had zero connections. The third and fourth year I started to network and meet agents and people, but for the most part I knew nobody that could get me to Europe. Later, I had many agents that promised me different jobs and nothing came. The other part is, when opportunities started to come it needed to be the right situation for me and my family. Money, safe, right step for a bigger step, etc. Obviously would have loved to come to Europe sooner, but God’s timing not mine. I think it worked out just fine’, commented Wayne McCullough. The first 2 years were very tough as he played for NBL team Island Storm. He only played 24 games and never averaged more than 3,5ppg. But sometimes experiencing growing pains and wading through the mud can help prepare you for anything as well as helping get rewarded and not to mention having the support of your loved ones. ‘My first 3 years of my career shaped my perspective of professional basketball. To make a long story short, I was cut from the Island storm back to back years. My third year I got invited to the Phoenix Suns G League team and had a great training camp and was the last cut. That is were my career really started. I learned what I have to do to make and stay on a roster. I learned the business side of professional basketball. I learned how to be aggressive. Those experiences have changed my perspective on my career and life in a good way. If it wasn’t for my wife I would have quit playing during that time’, remembered Wayne McCullough. Building relationships with players in tough times can be beneficial especially with other guys with giant chips on their shoulders like Rob Nortman a guy that paid his dues in Canada before reaching the second highest level in Germany. ‘ I am big on building relationships and not just being somewhere to play basketball. I did not spend much time with Rob, but I do remember him. Rob was a super energetic and funny guy. I remember thinking that he should be a Globetrotter. Doing all the tricks with a basketball and cracking jokes. Great guy with great energy. I was also happy to see him doing well in Germany’, said Wayne McCullough.
The Texas native who has Lebron over Jordan for his GOAT then had more luck as he moved to Moncton and won his first chip. He finally had a huge work load playing 53 games averaging 9.6ppg, 4.8rpg, 1.5apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 52.7%, 3PT: 33.6%, FT: 68.6%. One could say this was his much desired break through as a professional after paying his dues in his first 2 years. ‘That year was special from the beginning. I had just got cut from the G League and did not know what I was going to do. I ended up signing with Moncton and Coach Joe had put a really strong roster together. My confidence was higher and I knew what I needed to do to get minutes and help the team win. I think the biggest thing that year was our chemistry and the rolls were very defined. Every one knew what was expected of them, they were great at that role, and more importantly they accepted that role’, added Wayne McCullough. He scored in double figures in 25 games including 24 points against Sudbury F, 23 points against his ex team Island Storm and 20 points against Cape Breton. He got the dub beating Saint John’s F in the final in 4 games, but it will be that exciting 7 game semi-final series against Halifax H that will always standout especially that game 7 that was won 85-82. ‘I will never forget that series. My guy Trey Kell had a huge series and game. The last minute they hit a huge shot that made the game feel like we were going to lose. Trey came down back to back and hit tough buckets to put us up and win the game’, expressed Wayne McCullough. He remained with Moncton for another year and even was able to heighten his stats averaging 13.4ppg, 5.5rpg, 1.4apg, 1.5spg, FGP: 61.7%, 3PT: 39.4%, FT: 59.8%. Despite having a very good season, that time will always have a bitter taste in his mouth, because COVID came and stopped everything including a possible back to back title run. ‘When a train is rolling there isn’t much that can stop it, and we were rolling. Seven guys returned, and we had one mission, back to back. Beating teams by thirty and forty. I was playing well, we were having fun and knew we were the best team in the league by far. Who knows what would have happen, but we believed we would have won it’, exclaimed Wayne McCullough. During COVID, he didn’t have any misfortune, but actually finally made it overseas to Finland. This is a country where Americans flock to and is a good jumping pad when successful to make the next step in Europe. He played for Lahti Basketball (Finland-Korisliiga) averaging 17.8ppg, 6.4rpg, 3.8apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 52.9%, 3PT: 38.3%, FT: 70.4%. He didn’t only make good use with his scoring tools on the court, but off the court had the bike ready for all weather surprises. ‘Finland was one of the most fun years of my career. I made friendships that will last a lifetime. I think the biggest wake up call in Finland would be dark twenty hours a day and get to about negative 20 F. The best part was, my transportation was a bicycle. So I would be riding my bike in the middle of winter with a bike light on and about four layers of cloths going to the gym twice a day. I remember thinking to myself, ‘yup, not in Texas anymore’, laughed Wayne McCullough. He scored in double figures in 23 of 25 games including a 33 point explosion against Pyrinto, 29 points against Ura Baskets and 28 points against Helsinki. The season ended in the playoffs against Vilpas where 3 of the 4 games were lost by only a combined total of 11 points. He played his heart out averaging 16,0ppg, 7,0rpg and 2,0apg in the series. ‘That was a great battle against a really good team. They were playing the best basketball in Finland at the right time. Well coached with some great vets. I do remember those close games, and after the series thinking to myself ‘we had them, We were right there.’ Took them to overtime and gave them everything we had. I am very proud of the group we had. Some tough losses, but we never gave up. Made it a little easier on ourselves after the season since they won the championship that year’, stressed Wayne McCullough.
Currently the American who lists Brad States, Isaiah Pinero, George King, Gabe Olaseni, and Joey Trinkleas his best teammates of all-time is playing his second season for Darussafaka Istanbul (Turkey-BSL). Last season he played in 37 BSL games averaging a solid 8.6ppg, 2.3rpg, 1.2apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 57.3%, 3PT: 32.6%, FT: 69.7%; and in the BCL averaged a solid 8.1ppg, 2.5rpg, 1.5apg, 1.5spg, FGP: 45.5%, 3PT: 27.1%, FT: 81.5%. After paying his dues for 5 years, it is fair to say that he is a late bloomer. ‘Yes, I’m a late bloomer for sure. In high school I grew six inches my senior year that helped me to play in college. I did not dunk in a game until my sophomore year of college, and grew another 3 inches and put on 30 pounds. So, yes a late bloomer but I think it worked to my advantage’, said Wayne McCullough. In the BSL league he had some stellar games against Afyon scoring 22 and 16 points and had 20 points against Merkezefendi while in the BCL had 2 great games against Italian side Brindisi and Spanish club Manresa scoring 22 points a piece. He also held his own against Euroleague teams Efes and Fenerbahce scoring in double figures. Even if he had that first break through season in Canada, one can say that his first season in Turkey did wonders for his game. ‘Canada and Finland are years I am very grateful for. Now that I am playing in the Turkish BSL I found out there are levels to the game. Last year was one of the most challenging years of my career, on and off the court. Since last year my confidence is the biggest part of my game that has changed. Just like any player, if you come back to the same league with the same team your confidence should grow. It has been fun and I will only continue to grow and get better’, warned Wayne McCullough. Once again it isn’t only witnessing incredible things on the court that are enriching, but also off the court with the teammates like Gabriel Olaseni. ‘I call him the British Airways, and I love that guy. Great teammate and genuine guy. He brings a lot of experience, and not just on the court but off the court and leading guys more when their confidence is low or struggling on the court. Great guy and have had some great conversations with him. A friend I’ll have for life’, stressed Wayne McCullough. Every night he faces against top players and some of the toughest in Turkey for him have been Shane Larkin, Rodrigue Beaubois, Jamar Smith, and Jamar Gully. He always has to be ready and has 3 things that he uses that can make him impactful in any game. ‘I do not look at myself as a scorer, I just try to be aggressive on both sides of the ball. Some games that is four shots, and some games that’s twenty. I have confidence in my ability to make shots and think that can help a team win. I think my roll this year is to score and defend at a high level. Sometimes that is coming off the bench or starting, but playing confident, aggressive, and smart are three things that can make me impactful’, added Wayne McCullough. There is no stopping Wayne McCullough now as he always has the right mind set. Can he continue to make the step up to even higher leagues? ‘I’m always blessed to play the game I love. Never take it for granted and hopefully my play shows that. Yes, I am confident I will stay in top leagues, but feel like I have more to prove and higher levels to reach’, warned Wayne McCullough. It will be interesting to see where his journey will go in the next years. One thing for sure is that his shoulder will still be sore, because that chip will never go away.