Friday, October 31, 2014

McCullough sells self to boys players

By Greg Mast/Herald Sports Editor | 6/21/2013

Cliff McCullough did not make the move from coaching girls to boys basketball at Ottawa High School without putting a lot of thought into it.

The Cyclones boys position came open during the spring when Jon McKowen resigned to return home to Iowa after six years. McCullough pondered if he should pursue the position.

Cliff McCullough did not make the move from coaching girls to boys basketball at Ottawa High School without putting a lot of thought into it.

The Cyclones boys position came open during the spring when Jon McKowen resigned to return home to Iowa after six years. McCullough pondered if he should pursue the position.

“Before I made that decision, I contacted a lot of people,” McCullough said. “I talked to coaches that have made the move from boys to girls or girls to boys. I had a lot of old coaches help me and reassure me. One coach told me, ‘you are not going to a new school. The kids know you.’”

McCullough was hired after 13 successful years as the girls head coach. He guided the girls to five state tournaments, including two third-place finishes.

“I am very excited to move over to the guys side,” McCullough said. “It poses new challenges. It is not necessarily different than coaching the girls. They have a little less emotion. That is the only difference.

“It is a little bit different planning, explaining and drawing things up. It is processed different with guys. I had an incredible experience coaching girls.

“This was an opportunity for me.”

McCullough expects a smooth transition from McKowen to himself. Especially since Ottawa graduated nine seniors from the 2013 state championship team.

“It is a clean slate all the way around from coaching on down,” McCullough said.

The coach and players spent this past week learning about each other during the team camp.

“It is important for our young kids to get in here and see how things are done,” McCullough said. “It is important for these juniors to come in and some of our seniors to get to know me. I have to sell myself to them on my knowledge of basketball. That I am capable of taking them where they want to be.

“I feel like a first-year coach. I want to be prepared for everything that comes our way.”

The boys program has been successful with a string of six straight state appearances. McCullough said the expectations are the same.

“The expectations are to go back to Salina every year,” he said. “We have some pretty good athletes that came out of that junior varsity team. We lack height. It will be a great group to work with.

“We have a couple of years to instill [our] system. We have a freshman class that will be pretty good. The sixth and seventh grade classes are good too. The future looks bright for Ottawa High School basketball. As it has been. I am excited to step in and carry it on.”

All the players will have to learn McCullough’s terminology, but said the philosophy of coaching is not much different than McKowen’s.

“Defensively, we are not going to change a lot,” McCullough said. “I changed my offense with the girls depending on what personnel we had. That is not going to change here. We are going to take the personnel and find some offense that works with the personnel we have.

“We are going to be a defensive-oriented team with our lack of size. We have speed and quickness. We are very intelligent. We should take that and make a good defensive team out of it.

“You have to hold teams and limit possessions. We know we have kids that can shoot, that can score. We have to put them in positions to do so.”

The passion for the game is sky high with the program coming off a state title. A group of Ottawa players last weekend won the Spring Hill tourney.

“Everybody’s excitement level went through the roof,” McCullough said after winning the tourney. “I was excited to get them into camp.”

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