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This CR basketball star carries high expectations. That's paid off

Andre Lamar
Dover Post

Jada McCullough’s mom wanted her teenage daughter to succeed in sports so badly that she burned through three cars in just four years, chauffeuring her daughter to games and practices in travel basketball and travel soccer leagues.

“With the current car I have right now, I’m close to 200,000 miles and it’s a 2015,” Jada’s mom, Josette, said about her current Cadillac sedan.

Jada McCullough, 17, of Camden, plans to up her average from 15 points to 20 points a game with the Lady Riders her senior year when their basketball season starts Dec. 21. She's pictured playing with her dog, Rocky.

McCullough’s dad, Tiff, also contributes to driving his daughter around to sporting events that are often out of state.

All of that sacrifice, along with McCullough’s hard work, earned the Caesar Rodney High School senior a basketball scholarship. On Nov. 13, she signed her letter of intent to play ball for Delaware State University for the 2021-22 season.

McCullough, 17, of Camden, said she was recruited from other Division 1 schools to play basketball, including one in the Big East conference. But she had a soft spot for DSU.

“I wanted to go to an HBCU and stay home,” the 17-year-old said. “I think it’s going to be a great experience because I’m looking forward to my major, which is kinesiology.”

Ball in the family

McCullough comes from a family of athletes. Her dad played ball at Wilmington University and her mom played at DSU, graduating in 1995. Her cousin Morgan Tuck plays in the WNBA for the Seattle Storm and won a championship this summer.

Tuck also won four straight championships in college with the University of Connecticut, where McCullough would often watch her play.

“Morgan took Jada under her wing,” her mom said. “She got to meet all the players [at UConn]. She got to meet coach Geno [Auriemma] and watch their practices. That was kinda cool growing up.”

Jada McCullough, 17, a senior at Caesar Rodney High School, practices signing her letter of intent to Del State at her home on Nov. 11.

Not to mention, the 17-year-old’s aunt Tameka Williams is her head coach and guidance counselor at CR. While she loves her aunt, she admitted she doesn’t cut her any slack in front of her teammates.

“If someone makes a turnover, she’ll tell them, ‘You’ll get it back next time.’ But if I make a turnover, she’ll say, ‘Come on, you’re better than that,’” McCullough said. “If anything, I get treated the worst because that’s my aunt.”

Coach Williams said her niece can handle the high standards she sets for her.

“Jada is a competitor on the court. She absolutely hates to lose and she expects everyone to match her intensity,” Williams said. “She is someone that if the game is on the line, she wants the basketball in her hands.”

Playing during a pandemic

McCullough enters uncharted territory this year with the Lady Riders. This will be the first year she’ll have to play games wearing a mask. She and her teammates have been practicing in masks at the Boys & Girls Club of Newark for over a month.

She’s gotten more comfortable playing with a mask, but she still hasn’t worked out all the kinks yet. Wearing a mask has impacted her on the court in multiple ways, including covering her eyes, and making it harder to breathe, she said.

“It’s hard to talk, because in a gym it’s always loud, whether there’s a crowd or not. So when my teammates are talking and calling plays out, sometimes I can barely hear them,” the senior said. “[Before the pandemic] I still could barely hear them in a gym, but I could still read their lips. Now I can’t hear them well. And sometimes I have to literally pull my mask down real quick so I can say something [back] to them.”

Travel leagues

Since eighth grade, McCullough has played travel basketball and travel soccer, while also playing each sport at school. Last school year was the first time she didn’t play soccer for CR because the season was canceled due to COVID-19. She also didn’t play travel basketball.

While playing both travel soccer and travel basketball, she typically had to practice about four times a week, with at least two school nights being in the Maryland area. Then on the weekends, she’d play at least one game out of state. She was constantly on the go and flew to play games in places like Tennessee, Chicago, Indianapolis or Texas, her mom said.

Additionally, her mom said even on nights when her daughter didn’t have games or practice, sometimes she’d drive Jada to college games in the tri-state area so she could study how collegiate athletes played.

Her dad said driving McCullough to games and practices was worth it because it made her happy. “She wanted to do it, and we always told her we’d support your dreams,” he said.

Despite racking up “hundreds of thousands of miles” on three cars over the last four years, her mom said she doesn’t regret it.

“People said, ‘You spent all this money doing this and doing that.’ But what else are you going to do?” the DSU alum said. “There are all these kids who aren’t making good decisions. Jada goes to school and she does what we ask her to do most of the time. She’s a good kid. So if there’s anything she needs, we do provide it for her.”

Going for 20 points

McCullough said she knows it’s expensive playing travel sports because the flights, hotels and uniforms all add up. Seeing her parents invest so much time and money into her love for sports has been a motivator.

This basketball season at CR, McCullough has been named a captain and she hopes to have her best season yet.

The Lady Riders will begin the 2020-21 season at home versus Sussex Tech on Dec. 21.

“I’ve been training a lot,” McCullough said. “Last year I averaged 15 points a game. Now I’m going to try for 20.”