|Appreciation: West Charlotte coach Charles McCullough dies at 84|
|Earned 5 NC basketball titles over 33 years|
|Published Friday, August 4, 2017 9:00 pm|
In his heyday, Charles McCullough was the best high school coach in Mecklenburg County. Any sport. Any gender. Any era.
Mr. McCullough, who died Friday at age 84, was a titan in basketball circles, a man who won big and talked in measured tones as Lions’ head coach from 1960-93. He won five state titles and nearly 600 games, but more impressively won them as North Carolina society evolved. His Lions won during segregation when black students were forced to study and play as second-class citizens. He won when desegregation opened the doors for some of the best players to spread out to far-flung campuses. It didn’t matter to Mr. McCullough, as 21 league championships and seven state finals appearances attest.
He was, and in many ways, still is Lions basketball. That means a basket full of success – including three 4A state titles from 1986-93 when West Charlotte was a juggernaut.
Mr. McCullough’s best trait was his quiet fire, something he sharpened as a player at N.C. Central when the Eagles were among the best programs in the super-competitive CIAA. He brought that trait back to West Charlotte, his alma mater. It didn’t take long for the Lions to succeed on and off the court with his combination of coaching wizardry and mentorship. His players were family, even though he had three kids of his own. The coach took available talent and molded it into champions, relentless teams that broke opponents with defense and athleticism.
After retiring from West Charlotte, Mr. McCullough gave college basketball a go at Livingstone, but success was elusive in the CIAA. He was, at his core, a high school coach, the job he was tailored for.
Mr. McCullough wasn’t one to boast about his accolades. I interviewed him numerous times at West Charlotte and Livingstone, and he was consistently gracious, courteous and unflappable. He made time for people, whether it was his players or opponents. Win or lose, he was a consummate professional. He loved the game, but was never consumed by it.
His former players are a who’s who of local basketball royalty. There was Dwight Durante, a 5-8 guard who was Catawba’s first black player in 1965 and is a 2017 inductee to the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame; Junior Burrough, a big star at Virginia and later the Boston Celtics; Jeff McInnis, who went on to North Carolina and long NBA career, including a stop with the Charlotte Bobcats. One of his former players, Gosnell White, became a champion track athlete at Howard. He followed McCullough at West Charlotte and won the 1999 state title.
That’s Charles McCullough’s legacy, and those traits wear well.
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