Syracuse recruit likely stuck in 2014

Junior power forward Chris McCullough (Bronx, N.Y./Brewster Academy), ranked No. 17 in the ESPN 60, was back in the news this past weekend, claiming he was interested in reclassifying back to his original Class of 2013 and heading to Syracuse next fall instead of in 2014.

McCullough has been making similar statements since October. In fact, at the time of his commitment to Syracuse in November, we first reported rumors of his reclassification back to 2013 while also noting that both Brewster Academy (N.H.) head coach Jason Smith and Team Scan AAU head coach Terrence Williams indicated that such a move was highly unlikely.

Little more than a month later, it’s clear McCullough still remains interested in such a move, although it may not be a viable option given his current academic situation.

“There was a purpose for why he reclassified [to 2014 when he was a student] at Salisbury, and nothing has changed,” Smith said on Monday.

While nothing has changed with McCullough’s academics, the one thing that has changed is a growing national pattern of high-profile 2014 prospects reclassifying to 2013 in order to head to college a year earlier than expected. Already this year McCullough has seen peers like Andrew Wiggins, Noah Vonleh and Dakari Johnson make such moves.

“I think it might be a case of, ‘Everyone is doing it and I can do it, too,’” Smith said.

This is hardly the first time Smith has dealt with a situation like this. In fact, it was just two years ago that Jakarr Sampson made a decision very similar to the one McCullough is now hoping to make -- and Sampson paid a price because of it.

Sampson, who originally committed to St. John’s in the fall of 2010, arrived at Brewster for his senior year in 2010-11 and graduated on schedule that spring. He completed three summer school courses in hopes of meeting the criteria set by the NCAA Eligibility Center, but he was later ruled a non-qualifier when the Eligibility Center did not accept those summer courses. Sampson then returned to Brewster for a post-graduate year before recommitting to St. John’s last spring.

If McCullough hopes to get to Syracuse next year, he’ll have to hope for better results while following an almost identical plan to the one that led Sampson astray.

“Oh, it’s the same thing,” Smith said when asked if McCullough’s situation was similar to Sampson’s. “And the NCAA didn’t allow any of [Sampson’s] summer work.”

In fact, the NCAA has a history of denying eligibility to students who first request a waiver that will allow them to add three core classes following their fourth year of high school (the normal allowance is one core class, and only if you have received a high school diploma) and then complete all three of those core classes in the summer months.

In McCullough’s case, the scenario is even more complicated because he has yet to take the SAT. Right now he has eight core classes under his belt, with five more expected by the end of this year. Even if the NCAA were to contradict past policy and allow him to earn three more cores next summer (16 core courses are required for NCAA eligibility), he would still need to earn a qualifying test score in accordance with the sliding scale.

What we know for sure is that McCullough plans to meet with his family and coaches this Thursday upon returning to New York for the holiday break. Ultimately, no matter what is decided at that meeting, this may not be a question of what he wants to do or even what he is capable of doing from a basketball standpoint.

It may simply be a question of what the NCAA Eligibility Center (which has enacted new, even tougher standards starting for the Class of 2016) will allow. And if history repeats itself, that will mean McCullough remaining in the Class of 2014.