STORIED CAREER: Rickey McCullough as basketball coach

Published 4:26 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2016

It was 1975.

A young, single basketball player from the University of West Alabama had just gotten a coaching job at a little school in Liberty County, Florida.

The next 41 years of his career were spent motivating, training and connecting with kids, from when they could barely pick up a basketball to when they were ruling the courts their senior years.

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That’s the legacy Rickey McCullough wants to leave behind.

“At the end of the day, all they got to know is that you care about them,” McCullough said. “They know I cared about them away from the court.”

Of course, his resume speaks equal volumes. He has an overall record of 850-334.

McCullough coached for 27 years in Chipley, Florida, leading the team to 19 district titles, 16 region titles and five Final Four appearances.

In Bainbridge, he went 215-83 and put the Bearcats on the map in Southwest Georgia as a powerhouse. He coached his teams to the playoffs nine out of 10 years.

Three Region Championships.

Seven Sweet Sixteens.

Four Elite Eights

Two Final Fours.

Sure, he likes to think his coaching made Bainbridge such a threat over the past decade. What coach wouldn’t? But it was the big players that made the difference.

The Tyree Crumps. The Devon Baulkmans. The Amp Lees. Those were the guys that won you basketball games.

“You can’t win without good players,” McCullough said. “I don’t care how good you are. I had a coach tell me one time its not about the Xs and Os, its about the Jimmys and Joes. You got to have some players. I like to take the kids that grow up where you are and do the best I can do. And I think that’s what high school sports is about.”

During his tenure at Chipley, if you played basketball at any level, there was only one coach: McCullough. Kids growing up in the area knew this was the man they needed to practice with, learn from and be around if they wanted a shot at playing high school ball.

Likewise, McCullough knew these younger kids were the future of the game. If he didn’t put in the work while they were young, then he wasn’t going to have the success he wanted.

“The good thing about Chipley was you started going to the gym with them in the third grade, and they know who you are,” McCullough said.

Amp Lee played for Chipley 1986-1989 under McCullough. But the two knew each other for years before that.

“He was kind of the first guy I knew as coach,” Lee said. “As far back as elementary, he was coach. I grew up in his gym probably since I first started playing basketball. He set the foundation for me in terms of learning the game, developing my skillset and also understanding competition.”

Lee said McCullough was like a second dad. He even went over to the McCullough’s house where coach and his wife, Pam, would make him and other players food. Cookouts, game nights, pool parties; it was all about connecting with the players off the court.

“I have eaten a lot of sandwiches at his home,” Lee said, laughing. After high school, Lee played running back for Florida State and was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1992. He spent the next eight years in the NFL.

In Bainbridge, McCullough has always found ways to get to know the players at an early age. Every summer, he hosts a weeklong youth camp at the YMCA, where players go through drills and scrimmage against each other.

Surprising to McCullough, though, many of the kids in Bainbridge are already sweating buckets on the court any given day of the week.

“They are already out there playing,” McCullough said. “We’ll have tryouts here and there will be 100 kids. They have something here for them. If I didn’t open the gym, the gym didn’t get open. Here they have a YMCA, public courts. That makes us a good place.”

But it’s not always hugs and cookouts on McCullough’s team. During a game, it’s war. He’ll yell, he’ll stomp and he’ll let his players know one thing above all: he hates to lose.

During the game and at locker room at halftime, he’s going to do whatever it takes to make you play as hard as you can.

“I tell my kids, when we leave that locker room every time, we want to be the hardest playing team in South Georgia,” McCullough said. “If you can do that, I won’t even look at that scoreboard. That’s all you can do. Take charges, dive on the floor for the ball. But I’ve never went into that locker room after a game and gotten on to a team,” he said. “It’s over with. I learned that early in my career.”

On May 15, 2010, in Orlando, coach McCullough was inducted into the Florida Association of Basketball coaches (FABC) 2010 Court of Legends Florida Circle of Champions Hall of Fame.

During his career coach McCullough averaged 21 victories a season and had between 30 and 40 players, including Bearcats senior guard Tyree Crump this season, who has signed with the University of Georgia Bulldog.

On January 14, 2014 in Colquitt, coach McCullough’s Bearcats defeated the Miller County High School Pirates 72-58 for his 800th career victory.