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McCullough happy with choice

by Greg Talkington

SPORTS WRITER

SALEM -- Rabid Salem-Teikyo basketball fans will long remember Demond McCullough for his game-winning shot against Fairmont State in last season's East Regional Championship game.

But McCullough is quick to downplay his hero status.

"I just happened to make a shot at the right time," McCullough said. "Actually, I really played pretty bad in that game up to that point.

"I'm just glad I was able to make the shot and help get us to the the Elite Eight."

Like many of his teammates at S-TU, McCullough is a big-time talent at a Division II school. Some are there because of social problems and some because of academics woes.

For McCullough, it was the latter.

"I really messed up in high school and didn't have my priorities straight," the Atlanta native said. "I scored a 1390 on the SAT, but only had a 1.9 GPA.

"I thought I was going to Utah, but I ended up going to junior college."

And that almost didn't work out.

"I went to a school in Illinois, but I messed up with my grades again," McCullough said. "I guess I didn't have the maturity I needed at that point in my life."

McCullough then enrolled at Southern Union Community College in Wadslow, Ala. That's when his life began turning in the right direction.

"I ended up with my associates degree from Southern and we had a real good season," McCullough said. "A few major schools were still interested in me.

"But I wanted to get into a winning program and when (S-TU assistant coach) Danny Young called, I listened."

It was enough to cast his lot at the NCAA Division II powerhouse.

"I'd much rather be at a D-II school that has a chance to win a championship than be at a D-I school that really doesn't have a chance to win one," McCullough said.

But after a few practice sessions with S-TU coach Mike Carey, McCullough wondered whether he had made the right decision.

"I thought I was mentally tough when I came here," McCullough said. "But I had a real tough time adapting to coach Carey's style of coaching.

"I couldn't understand why he was on me all the time."

McCullough struggled with what he thought was Carey's lack of confidence in him. But he later figured out that wasn't the case at all.

"He finally told me if he didn't think I was any good, he wouldn't get after me," McCullough said. "I know now that if he's yelling at me, it's for my own good and if he's not saying much, I'm probably in trouble."

McCullough went through an erratic season as a junior, but ended up averaging five points and three rebounds a game. In addition, he shot 50 percent from the 3-point range.

This season, injuries have bothered the 6-foot-4 senior. He played in both of the tournaments S-TU participated in, but suffered a partially torn ACL and torn MCL in his left knee taking a charge in the fifth game of the season against Fairmont State.

He then missed the next four games, returning to action two weeks ago against West Virginia Wesleyan. He came off the bench to score 11 points and hand out three assists in that game.

A tooth infection caused him to miss another game, but he's finally settling into his role as one of the Tigers' top reserves.

"Missing those games have turned out to be a blessing in disguise," McCullough said. "I understand more about the game by sitting and watching.

"Things like passing up a good shot at a certain time in the game can be for the best. I now understand why coach does certain things and why they say that basketball is 90 percent mental."

McCullough's improved mental game has taken hold in the classroom, too. He's scheduled to receive his degree in sports management in May.

"I want to be a sports agent," McCullough said, then adding "I hope to negotiate (S-TU center) Ed Jenkins' contract when he graduates and make a whole bundle of money."

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