Five years ago, when Washington center Todd MacCulloch was a
senior at Shaftesbury High in Winnipeg, he played basketball
like someone who aspired to be the first seven-foot-tall speech
therapist in Manitoba. But his height wasn't his only notable
physical attribute. "He always had great hands," Huskies coach
Bob Bender says. Those hands persuaded Bender to offer
MacCulloch a scholarship even though he could barely jump high
enough to dunk.
It was one of Bender's shrewdest moves, hands down. MacCulloch,
now a fifth-year senior, through Sunday had averaged a double
double (18.8 points, 11.7 rebounds), made 67.0% of his shots
from the field and was poised to become only the second player
ever to lead Division I in field goal percentage for three
straight seasons. (Jerry Lucas of Ohio State was the first.) His
most devastating weapon is his midrange jumper. "He can make the
six- to eight-foot shot when he's not close enough to dunk,"
says Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, whose team was very nearly
upset by Washington in last year's NCAAs when MacCulloch had 18
points and 10 rebounds in a 75-74 last-second loss in the Sweet
16. "We had no defense for him. He's got great touch."
During his first three years at Washington, soft touch described
MacCulloch's hands, not to mention the rest of his 280-pound
body. It took time for Bender to understand that MacCulloch's
placidity didn't mean he didn't care. "He has a different sort
of toughness," Bender says. "He's the focus of so much defensive
attention, and they play him physical to get him off the block.
He doesn't let it bother him. The way he's rebounding, he's
shown he can respond."
At week's end MacCulloch was averaging two more rebounds a game
than he did last season, in part because of a rather fundamental
realization he came to last summer while playing for the
Canadian national team at the world championships in Athens.
"You're really allowed to pursue the ball all over the place,"
he says. "That's something I've started to believe in." Sound
naive? Absolutely, but remember that MacCulloch came to
Washington with a basketball IQ barely above his scoring
average. He played hockey as a kid, until he became too ungainly
for the sport and switched to basketball at age 11. Bender says
that when MacCulloch entered UCLA's Pauley Pavilion for the
first time, he never gave the Bruins' championship banners a
second look. He didn't understand their significance. The
Huskies' tournament run last year opened his eyes to the
importance of the NCAAs. "It made me want to get back pretty
badly," MacCulloch says. After a slow, injury-plagued start,
Washington (16-9, 9-6) had won nine of its last 12 games through
Sunday, putting it on the tournament bubble.
If there's no Madness to his March, MacCulloch will keep the
disappointment in perspective. A lover of the outdoors who
enjoys rowing on Lake Washington, MacCulloch has taken trips to
see Mount Rainier, Olympic National Park and the San Juan
Islands since he has been at Washington. He's also as willing to
discuss his pursuit of a degree in speech and hearing science as
his pursuit of a rebound. "People who knew me before basketball
like the fact that I'm not defined by the game," MacCulloch
says. "People think I should put all my time and energy into
being a better player. I want to become a better player, but I
want to get a degree."
It's clear that MacCulloch's future is in good hands.
COLOR PHOTO: DANIEL SHEEHAN