Post Falls boys basketball coach Mike McLean counts Max McCullough among the best players he’s had.
McLean has had a number of talented players. After all, he hasn’t coached two teams to state championships, including last season, and another to runner-up finish at state with mediocre players.
McCullough won’t end up playing at the NCAA Division I level like three of McLean’s former standouts. But McCullough’s place in McLean’s program is well earned.
“When he came to the high school, Max was as skilled an offensive player as we’ve had,” McLean said. “He could score in a variety of ways – off the dribble and off a screen.”
A three-year starter and four-year letterman, McCullough was promoted to varsity from junior varsity 12 games into his freshman season.
It didn’t take long for opponents to take notice. McCullough finished the year averaging 6.2 points per game.
He raised it to 9.3 the following season in his first year starting. Last year, he increased it by more than five points to 14.4 when he helped lead Post Falls to the state title and was named co-most valuable player of the year in the 5A Inland Empire League.
Through five games this season, McCullough has raised his average more than five points again (19.8).
By season’s end, McCullough, a 5-foot-10 guard, could become the fifth player in school history to crack 1,000 career points.
McLean said McCullough was easily the best offensive player at the state tourney last year when he averaged 16.7 in three games.
In the title game, McCullough scored 13 of his team-high 19 points in the first quarter while being guarded by 6-2 Stefan Gonzalez, who is averaging 7.0 points for Saint Mary’s College this season. Gonzalez was named the 5A state player of the year last winter.
“That was as big a performance of offensive firepower in one quarter as I’ve ever witnessed,” McLean said. “Max did what he wanted, when he wanted and scored at will against a kid who is playing in the (West Coast Conference). He put on an offensive clinic against a kid who was named the state player of the year.”
McCullough wears a ring on his right ring finger recognizing the Trojans’ 25-1 season.
He has added to his offensive game each season – to the point last year when he was scoring in the key and in traffic against bigger bodies.
“He does such a good job keeping his body square when he hangs in the air,” McLean said. “That’s something that has developed the last couple of years.”
“I’ve always been able to shoot it well, but I wanted to take it to the next level,” McCullough said.
McLean preaches attacking the basket.
“He doesn’t mind if we take an open shot if it’s there, but he wants us to get to the rim,” McCullough said.
McCullough has no fear going against taller players.
“What makes him so special is he changes speed so well,” McLean said. “That allows him to get to the rim.”
McCullough is the Trojans’ lone returning starter. Four players who came off the bench last year earned the other starting positions.
Post Falls’ bench consists of players all new to varsity.
McCullough wants to take a fourth trip to state.
“We have the capability of doing what we did last year, but that’s way over our heads to talk about state right now,” McCullough said. “Our only goal right now is to win league.”
McCullough said that while the Trojans’ bench is new to varsity, it’s not new to Post Falls’ expectations.
“They saw the model last year. They practiced with us,” McCullough said. “They saw what it takes. They want the success that they’ve seen.”
Now that he’s a senior, McCullough has taken on more of a leadership role.
“I haven’t had to be vocal in the past,” he said. “I’m a calm guy. It’s new to me to be vocal. I just make sure my teammates can come to me and talk to me any time.”
McCullough gives much credit to McLean for his development.
“He’s helped me a lot with my confidence,” McCullough said. “As a 5-5 freshman, I wasn’t sure if I’d succeed. He’s trusted me throughout my four years.”
McLean also has helped McCullough with mental toughness.
“His practices every day make me better,” McCullough said. “He makes everything in practice a competition with consequences. A lot of times practices are tougher than games. He’s made me tougher on the court and in other things in life. He’s gotten me ready for life and basketball at the next level.”
Just what level that will be McCullough doesn’t know yet.
“I’m getting some Division III interest – from Whitworth and George Fox,” he said.
“It’s an interesting situation with Max,” McLean said. “Physically, he’s not the prototypical size colleges look for. But he could play at a high level with the right fit.”
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