Pressure a chance to grow for McCullough

Nikau McCullough said he wanted the pressure when he signed with the Otago Nuggets.

He wanted to be thrown in the fire.

He most certainly did not want anyone bailing him out.

The 1.88m guard has very much lived up to that, too.

To speak colloquially, McCullough has shown himself to be a certified bucket.

He can shoot from deep, get to the hoop and — perhaps most notably — create a shot for himself in the mid-range.

That has enabled him to put up 17 points per game, at an efficient 46% for a guard.

"We spoke and that was the goal," McCullough said of his comments about wanting the pressure.

"It’s easy to say something like that. But when it’s real, in the pressure, a lot of people can fold.

"But I feel like I’ve grown from that opportunity and just being encouraged by my team-mates and my coach to make plays when it comes to that. It’s been more than I could ask for, so a lot of credit to them."

After some handy displays early on, it was on the team’s first road trip after its imports had arrived that McCullough announced himself.

He was perhaps viewed as the weaker link of a starting five consisting of three high-level imports and the league’s dominant centre in Sam Timmins.

That was the approach his team from two years ago — the Franklin Bulls — seemed to take.

He subsequently torched them, using his full array of weapons, to pour in 17 points in the first quarter.

In that he barely missed a shot, finishing the game with 24 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Even in the team’s tough games — losses to the Nelson Giants and Taranaki Airs — he has been a bright spot.

His ability to generate offence has been key, while there is no doubting his energy and commitment to this team.

It was all a big step up for McCullough, who was coming off a solid, but quiet, season for the Manawatu Jets.

"It’s been a long time coming," he said.

"I always feel like I’m capable of playing like that. It wasn’t really until the off-season I grew into myself. I had a look in the mirror, checked out all my flaws and just worked on them.

"Coming into the season, I think I earned those moments. It’s definitely hard work paying off," McCullough said.

"But the teammates I have take a lot of pressure off, as well. Everyone’s focused on them, [the defence is] making me beat the team and I can do that. You’ve got to pick your poison."

He returns to the team tomorrow, having missed the past two games while away with the New Zealand 3x3 team.

McCullough got back from the World Cup in France on Wednesday.

He had enjoyed playing against the world’s best 3x3 players, eventually finishing 10th — being edged 21-20 by the United States in the playoff for ninth.

It will not be his last absence either, having been confirmed in the New Zealand 3x3 team for the Commonwealth Games.

That was an opportunity he felt had come from what his move to the Nuggets had provided him.

He enjoyed the 3x3 game, although the traditional format remained his preference.

While he was yet to see his name on a Tall Blacks long list, that remained very much a goal.

The way he is playing, he must be catching the eye of the selectors.

"I’m definitely waiting on it. What I want to prove now, for the rest of the season, is that I was snubbed from that list," he said.

"They’re all good players. I don’t know. I’m just growing and I’m kind of getting overlooked.

"But it’s motivation to keep going and prove everyone else wrong."

The Nuggets host the Auckland Tuatara tomorrow at the Edgar Centre.

Tip-off is at 3pm, following the Southern Hoiho game against the Northern Kahu at 12.30pm.

National Basketball League

Edgar Centre, tomorrow, 3pm

Nuggets: (probable) Sam Timmins, Todd Withers, Keith Williams, Tray Boyd III, Nikau McCullough, Josh Aitcheson, Darcy Knox, Jack Andrew, Matthew Bardsley, Joe Ahie, Robbie Coman, Max Pearce.

Tuatara: Rob Loe, Siler Schneider, Taki Fahrensohn, Dontae Russo-Nance, Braydon Iuli, Nicholas Barrow, Chris McIntosh, Thomas Beattie, Charlie Dalton.

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