LOS ANGELES Playing center for the Washington Huskies was Todd MacCulloch’s default position. Had he been able to find a pair of size 19 hockey skates, he might have glided down a different career path.
His big-foot dilemma worked out pretty well for the Huskies.
MacCulloch, a 7-foot, 280-pounder, was the primary pillar in the rebuilding of the school’s basketball program in the late 1990s. He helped take the team to back-to-back NCAA appearances. His four-year career at Montlake, in which he finished as the fourth leading scorer, has not gone unnoticed by the Pac-10 Conference.
He will be among nine other former players recognized in the Hall of Honor presentation Saturday here at the Pac-10 Tournament. The other players are: Arizona’s Michael Dickerson from Federal Way, ASU’s Isaac Austin, California’s Bob McKean, Oregon’s Charlie White, OSU’s Charlie Warren, Stanford’s Brevin Knight, UCLA’s Don McLean, USC’s Harold Miner and WSU’s Ray Sundquist.
My wife opened the mail, it was from the Pac-10, and read it out loud,” said MacCulloch, who lives on Bainbridge Island. I’m really, really happy. It’s a wonderful honor to be included it this group. I’m glad the letter came to the right house.
For a kid who grew up playing hockey in Winnipeg on the Canadian prairie to end up in a basketball Hall of Honor is amazing. I’m pleased to make my parents proud, my wife proud, my teammates and my school proud.”
He played hockey until he was 12, when he got too big for the sport. He turned to basketball and found he had a gift of hands. When he caught the ball, it was secure. He developed a quick turn to the hoop and a unlikely star was born.
Washington already has recognized his contributions, as he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2006. However, with due consideration to his career, should he also have his No. 50 retired by the university and hung on the Hec Ed rafters alongside Bob Houbregs and Brandon Roy?
Both of those guys were All-Americans. I was honorable mention,” MacCulloch, naturally humble and self-effacing. That would be a huge honor, if they’d lessen their requirements. But it seems like there should be more than two for all the years the program has been around.”
Basketball has been played at the school since 1896. And just two jerseys? They do look awfully lonely way up there.
It’s a somewhat subjective exercise to retire numbers. There are plenty of worthy candidate numbers that could be hoisted up there.
What about Jack Nichols? He’s big time,” argued UW Coach Lorenzo Romar. He might be No. 1 if you want to put someone else up there.”
Nichols, an All-American, played in 1944, served in the military then came back in 1947 and 1948. At the time he left he was the school’s all-time leading scorer, the first one with 1,000 points at 1,067. He had a 11.7 average. Since that time, 28 players has passed him.
His teams finished with a 65-27 record, winning the Pacific Coach Conference title two of his three years and reaching the NCAA Tournament his senior year. He deserves consideration, 63 years hence. But fans tend to favor those who they saw, which is why there’s no ground swell for mid-20th Century nominees.
There are others who should be there. Center Christian Welp, the school’s career leading scorer at 2,047 points, is an oversight. He helped his team reach the NCAAs three straight seasons, along with the NIT his senior year.
Jon Brockman, second all-time in scoring and first in rebounds with two NCAA appearances, one day will get consideration. Eldridge Recasner, James Edwards, Steve Hawes and Louis Nelson also have the credentials.
There are legitimately 14 guys that could have their uniform retired, because I’ve gone through this,” Romar said. If you retired 14 numbers, that limits you. But that’s secondary. If 14 deserve it then they deserve it. But there has to be some type of criterion that sets someone apart. All these guys have done something. You’re not going to please everyone if you do this.”
So what about Todd?
Beyond basic statistics that gets a player into the discussion, one of the major criterion for the school seems to be All-American honors. If that’s a huge factor, then there’s more than 14 candidates. It may surprise people to know that since 1911 there there have been 18 All-Americans who played for the Huskies.
Some of those were retroactively awarded. Some are obscure, such C.C. Clementson and Anthony Savage. Some did not even average 10 points a game. One won it twice, Steve Hawes. One was National Player of the Year, Houbregs, who also was the only consensus All-American. Not even Roy could claim that.
You can’t put all 18 oversized uniforms up there. They would block the views. And although being an All-American is a major honor, it’s still a selection, a bunch a people in a room picking guys. Scores of great players, some in Halls of Fame, never made an All-American team.
What carries the most weight should be factors: One, the team thing getting into the NCAA Tournament; and two, individual achievements being among the best on the national level. MacCulloch fits both beautifully.
He was part of the Huskies’ program resurgence under Coach Bob Bender, 1996-99. He had a 7-footer alongside, Patrick Femerling, and they were joined, at various seasons, by Donald Watts, Mark Sanford, Jamie Booker, Bryant Boston, Jan Wooten, Jason Hamilton, Deon Luton and Thalo Green. Solid players.
In 1998, the Huskies went 20-10 and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1987. They beat No. 18 UCLA, 95-94, to help earn the bid. They beat No. 23 Xavier in the first round then Richmond to set up their epic Sweet 16 game with No. 6 Connecticut.
It was the first time in 12 years for the school. That was a huge accomplishment. We had so much fun. And we were so close to the Elite Eight,” MacCulloch said.
They were denied when Connecticut’s Richard Hamilton, just inside the foul line, put back a 12-footer fade as time expired in a 75-74 loss. It’s a moment often shown in NCAA Tournament promotions and at least one Nike commercial.
I’m reminded all the time,” MacCulloch said. I thought about it many times, why didn’t I get a rebound or why not block a shot. That was the hard part, too many chances, once, twice, three times.”
Femerling had blocked one shot but didn’t knock it down court far enough for time to expire. Hamilton retrieved it and found a way. MacCulloch scrambled over to block it but he was falling down. It was an almost impossible angle to block. I couldn’t believe the buzzer didn’t go off. It’s a round ball but it takes funny bounces.”
A year later in New Orleans, the Huskies met Miami of Ohio in the NCAA first round and that team featured Wally Szczerbiak. He hit for 43 points matched Thursday by Washington’s Klay Thompson as the second most by a Husky opponent in a another heart-breaking, one-point loss, 59-58.
We wanted to shut off everyone else and let Wally score his 30, not 43,” he said. We took a lot of criticism but a very good Utah team shut him off in the next game and the bench stepped up to beat Utah.”
MacCulloch was a major player in Husky post-season history and individually no other Husky accomplished what he did on a national level. He led the nation in field-goal percentage, not once nor twice but three times. He is the only the second player in collegiate history to do that, joining Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas. MacCulloch would have won it all four years but didn’t quite have enough attempts to qualify his freshman year in 1996.
As is his personality, he maintains humility about it. His longtime friends wouldn’t know it. There was one time, though, he let it slip while playing the carnival Pop-a-Shot game. He ended up overwhelming his friend, who was shocked he was so good at it.
Well, you know,” he told him jocularly, I did lead the nation three times in field-goal percentage.”
Those great hands, in the same mold and UCLA’s Joshua Smith, and built along similar lines. He was deceptively quick once he received the ball, but as he said, it was limited.
It was kind of a Zoolander turn, and I could only go one way,” he said.
He wasn’t quick, as coaches told him not to wear black shoes because he appeared to be even slower. He didn’t have a mid-range jumper but he had such a marvelous touch around the basket as anyone who played that position for the Huskies.
A coach told me once that when I caught the ball it seemed like the defense didn’t have time to do anything,” he said. I’d catch it and get it right up. I wasn’t skinny and athletic like a lot of centers, I was big and slow but it was all about keeping it high. If I missed (not often), I’d get the rebound while the other guy was still on the ground loading up. I guess my volleyball days helped me get back up with a little hop.
But I was still a load who took up a lot of space. I remember we played at Cal and I think maybe they underestimated me. I missed my first shot then made the next 13 in a row. I think it was Francisco Ellison who I read in the paper the next day saying, ‘we could have stopped him.’ I’m thinking, then why didn’t you? I guess they were surprised I was able to do that.”
MacCulloch had enough moves around the basket to place him among the school’s scoring elite. He is fourth on the career scoring list, with 1,743 points in 115 games, a 15.2 average. He had a career high 38 against James Madison, Dec. 7, 1996. His best season was as a senior in 1999 when he averaged 18.7. He was at 18.6 his junior year.
He is second on the school list for 30-point games (eight), behind Houbregs. He is third in 20-point games with 35 and third in double-figure games with 85.
MacCulloch’s name appears throughout the Husky record books in various categories. Certainly, his shooting percentage is the most prominent. He ranks first through fourth in the school’s field-goal percentage. His best season was his sophomore year in 1997 when he hit .676 percent (163 of 241).
Only three other Huskies have had percentages over .600. He alone has done it four times.
He also holds the best percentage in a career at .664 (702 of 1,058) and the best two percentages in a game, 10-for-10 against Cal in 1996 and 14 of 15 (.933) against Oregon in 1998.
Only once in his career did he have back-to-back sub-50 percent shooting games.
He left his mark in rebounds. He is fifth in career rebounds with an 8.5 average. He had 975. Houbregs (in three years) is sixth at 971 and Welp is fourth at 995. He is tied for seventh in highest season average, 11.9 in 1999. That was good enough for second in the nation that year.
Since 1977 when better records were kept, MacCulloch has six of the top eight rebounding games at the school.
He’s up there in blocks, third all-time with 142. Matthew Bryan-Amaning passed him three weeks ago.
He has the sixth most in a season, 47 in 1999.
He even led the team in steals in 1999 with 29.
There are three lists that he is not in the top 10, fouls, turnovers or disqualifications.
Whether it’s MacCulloch or several of the other prominent candidates, the university should further consider the qualifications. Two is pretty stingy. In 115 years, certainly they’ve had more than two players to immortalize.
Seattle University, by contrast, has had a team since 1945 and have six retired numbers, Elgin Baylor, Johnny O’Brien, Eddie O’Brien, Eddie Miles, Clint Richardson and Tom Workman. Only three were All-Americans.
If the school is concern over running out of numbers fewer than three digits, retiring two numbers every century would mean they would use up all 99 numbers by the year 10,000.
MacCulloch mused that if the school ever considers retiring his number it should be before that, because every year I get knocked down lower on the charts. Someday my accomplishments won’t look like anything.”
Unlikely. Time will favor him.