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Chris McCullough: To China and Back

The former first-round NBA draft pick is hoping to get back to the league.

2018 NBA Summer League - Las Vegas - Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Adjusting to brand new situations is something that professional basketball players often go through. Trades, free agent signings, it can be a stressful experience. But having to adjust to a completely different country? That’s something else entirely.

After having played the past three years of his professional career in the NBA, Chris McCullough was facing something much different this season when a day after being cut by the Detroit Pistons in training camp, he signed with the Shanxi Brave Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association.

Over the past few years, more and more American players have made the trek across the sea to China to play professional basketball. A few have been able to parlay those results into resuming their NBA careers. For McCullough, the initial experience was a culture shock.

“First off, it was a really different experience. Everything from the atmosphere, the air quality, no one speaks English, it was a big change out there,” McCullough told Ridiculous Upside. “I had to wash my own laundry, wash my own jersey, everything. I had to learn a little bit of Chinese to somehow speak to them, but I figured it out.”

McCullough only ended up playing in three games for the Brave Dragons. In 26.2 minutes per game, he put up 15.7 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting from the field, 37.5 percent from the three-point line, 83.3 percent from the free-throw line, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists.

Although it wasn’t that large of a sample size, McCullough was impressed with the level of play he experienced in the CBA.

”The competition is pretty good,” McCullough said. “They have some players who are really good, and the Americans are really good so there’s some decent competition.”

Upon returning stateside, McCullough entered the G League free agent pool and was picked up by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the affiliate of the Houston Rockets. He’s no stranger to the G League; he was assigned multiple times over the course of his three-year NBA stint with the Brooklyn Nets and the Washington Wizards.

During the 2016-17 season, he suited up in 31 games for the Long Island Nets, and 12 games for the Northern Arizona Suns. He averaged 16.1 points per game on 44.6 percent shooting from the field, 35 percent shooting from three-point range, and 7.0 rebounds. That same season, he was traded at the NBA’s trade deadline from the Nets to the Wizards.

Washington didn’t have a G League affiliate yet, so they assigned him to the Northern Arizona Suns where he spent a good portion of the remainder of the year.

Even with an NBA contract, he spent more time in the G League than on an NBA court. He’s definitely been able to see the growth of the league during that time span.

“Most teams got a lot of guys that can play, a lot of NBA guys that can play,” McCullough said. “A lot of people are getting called up, you got to go out there and perform.”

When he first was drafted in the NBA was when the game started to shift away from traditional positions and offenses, and more towards high-octane scoring and versatile big men who can shoot from distance. During his rookie year in Brooklyn, he shot 38.2 percent from the three-point line. In China earlier this year, he shot 37.5 percent. He didn’t take many threes with the Valley Vipers, but it’s becoming a strength of his.

He’s also capable of guarding multiple positions on defense and is a strong rebounder. McCullough is confident that his skills can translate to the changing NBA game. Although he didn’t play much when he was in the NBA, he’s still grateful for that experience.

“I’m a stretch-four, a rebounder, I can run the floor, and do what I do,” McCullough said. “When I did play, it was fun to get on the court. It’s always fun to get on an NBA court especially when I was in Brooklyn. That was my hometown.”

McCullough didn’t finish the G League season on the Valley Viper’s roster and was not with them when they won the G League championship. Regardless of whether or not his future includes a return to the NBA, he had a decent enough experience that he wouldn’t mind continuing his career in another country.

“Most likely, I’m trying to get a call-up,” McCullough said. “That’s what I’m working to, to get back to the NBA where I need to be. If not, I’ll just go overseas and play over there.”