“I felt like I had something to prove and that I should have been on the floor when I was here. I wasn’t playing. I just wanted to show that I could play. I had a little grudge on my shoulder.” – Taj McCullough after playing against Erie on Jan 9.
Today, Taj McCullough says he’s not bitter.
He just chalks it up as a business decision the Erie BayHawks made when they released him Dec. 22 of last year, but when he faced Erie for the first time after that Jan. 9, McCullough went for 26 points against his former team.
The Mad Ants lost, but the 6-foot 7-inch rookie left Tullio Arena with some self gratification.
Months later, McCullough will face his former team again tonight at Fort Wayne and Saturday at Erie. The BayHawks just need to split their last two games to make the playoffs, but if the Mad Ants beat Erie twice and Sioux Falls wins its last two games, the BayHawks will miss the playoffs.
Wondering how McCullough is approaching all this? Let’s find out.
On the Fort Wayne (19-29)-Erie (25-23) match up: “It’s two good teams playing. You really can’t call it. You’ve just got to come out and play. Both teams are going to play their games and just see what the outcome is.”
(Erie is 3-2 against the Mad Ants, but the two losses were at Fort Wayne).
On if he’ll have something extra for the two games: “I wouldn’t necessarily say extra. I would just say I’m going to play my normal game. I’m an aggressive player and that’s just how I play. That’s my offensive game.”
On spoiling Erie’s playoff hopes: “I’m just looking to win. I’m just trying to finish the season out strong. If that happens and it doesn’t allow (the BayHawks) to get into the playoffs, I’m sorry, but I’m just looking to finish the season strong and finish up with two wins.”
On playing more at Fort Wayne: “It was kind of a blessing. I really didn’t play at Erie. I got on this team and Coach (Jaren Jackson) had confidence in me to put me out there and play. Obviously he saw what I can do and allowed me to do it. That’s just not the opportunity I got when I was in Erie.”
(McCullough averaged 6.5 points in eight games with Erie. In 34 games with Fort Wayne, he’s averaging 17.7 ppg. He’s started 32 games for Fort Wayne, zero for Erie).
On lingering resentment with Erie: “No, not at all. Coach (John) Treloar and Coach (Ben) McDonald, they’re great guys. I’m not upset. It’s a business. I understand. I’m still friends with most of the guys. It’s going to be that way for a long time. (Erie’s lead local investor Owen McCormick), I’m always going to have respect for him. He’s a great guy. So is everyone else in the organization.”
On what it’s going to take to beat Erie twice: “If we play the way the guys have been playing the last two games while I was out (with the flu), we definitely have a good chance. We’ve just got to come out and play hard, play great defense because (Erie) is playing great defense. We’ve got to match their intensity.”
On dealing with winter: “Oh my goodness. This is crazy. I’m used to sun and wearing shorts right now. I’m still trying to recover from the flu in April. I’ve had the flu before, but it was in December, but here in April, that’s a big difference coming from the south and coming up north and then the Midwest, but I’m dealing with it. It’s not really a shock to me. Just trying to fight my way through it.”
(An Atlanta native, McCullough played college at Winthrop in Rock Hill, S.C)
On the biggest improvement in his game: “The IQ of the game. Being around veterans, you learn different tricks. I don’t want to say advantages, but you learn from playing with older guys. With me still being a rookie, I think I opened a lot of eyes of some of the guys out there in the league. People have a feel for who I am now.”