Cullen Russo, a 6-foot-9, 210-pound forward from Charlotte (NC) Southern Tech Prep Academy, is one of the most athleitc big men still available. The former Bloomington Kennedy big man attended the Minnesota-Lafayette game Saturday and talked to GopherHole.com about the latest on his recruitment and his senior year.
Russo played this summer for the Minnesota Pump N Run 17-and-under team and transferred to Southern Tech after playing at Quakerdale Prep in Iowa last season.
Gopher Hole: How has North Carolina been?
Cullen Russo: It is good. Things are going pretty good for the term of the season. We went about 27-9. It was really good. It gets to wear on your body, but it’s all right.
Gopher Hole: What is the competition level? Do you play a lot of prep schools?
Cullen Russo: We play mostly prep schools. We play a few jucos here and there, but we play a lot of prep schools. We played Massanutten, Fishburne, Miller and Queen City. There are a lot of prep schools in North Carolina where we are at, in that area, so we play a lot of them and are traveling a lot.
Gopher Hole: How does the competition compare to playing last season at Quakerdale Prep in Iowa?
Cullen Russo: It is kind of different because last year we were mostly playing junior colleges or NAIA schools and this year is more, kids who are our age, prep schools or postgraduate schools. I would say that last year was a little bit tougher because you were playing against bigger guys, older guys that were more mature. This year, you are playing against guys who are going to go to that same next level that you are going to go at the same time, so it is pretty good competition.
Gopher Hole: You decided to not sign in the early signing period. Was the thought process that you would get some more looks by playing this season?
Cullen Russo: I was just talking with my coach and he told me that it would be better if I would wait and play out the season and see how I did and hopefully get some more interest.
Gopher Hole: What schools are you hearing from right now?
Cullen Russo: I am hearing from Clemson, Miami of Florida, Rutgers, LSU, Minnesota, St. Bonaventure, St. Louis, Missouri State.
Gopher Hole: What offers do you have right now?
Cullen Russo: I have offers from St. Bonaventure and Miami right now.
Gopher Hole: What are you hearing from the Gophers?
Cullen Russo: They are keeping in contact and I am going to go to the Michigan State game on the 31st. We are keeping in close contact and working our way through the recruiting process.
Gopher Hole: Would you like to play closer to home? Does that matter to you much. You’ve been away from home the past two years in Iowa and North Carolina, so it probably isn’t as big a deal to go away from home than if you had been in Minnesota the past two years.
Cullen Russo: It is nice if you can stay close to home, but for me it is all about the perfect fit and the schools and what is going to help me on and off the court the most.
Gopher Hole: What would it mean to play for Minnesota, the homestate school?
Cullen Russo: That would be really great because all my family would be able to come and see me because most of my games would be close to home.
Gopher Hole: I know that it has been tough to be away from your family and friends the past two years, but how beneficial to play in Iowa and North Carolina in terms of improving your game.
Cullen Russo: It has been great. You get to play against a different style of players out there. It is not the same as the Midwest type. It is really different, so it has been actually really great.
Gopher Hole: Have you had a chance to make any visits to any campuses at all?
Cullen Russo: I went down on an unofficial visit to Clemson. I went to one of their games. Other than that, I haven’t gotten a chance.
Gopher Hole: Have you thought about trying to take some visits after the season is done?
Cullen Russo: Yes, I have. Me and my coach are talking about which schools I like and which schools I would actually like to take a visit to.
Gopher Hole: Do you think that Minnesota would be one of those?
Cullen Russo: Of course, because they are the homestate. They are the home school, so you always have to go to that one.
Gopher Hole: You said that you are 27-9. How many more games do you have left on the schedule?
Cullen Russo: I would say that they have another 25 scheduled for us.
Gopher Hole: You have some good players on your team who are hoping to play at the Division I level. How much do you think that helps you just playing against your own teammates in practice?
Cullen Russo: It is really good because they push you and don’t let you have any days off out there. You have to bring it every single practice. It is really hard.
Gopher Hole: Do you even have a favorite school yet or is still too early for that?
Cullen Russo: It is a little early for that.
Gopher Hole: Have you even thought about a college major yet?
Cullen Russo: I would really like to major in Sports Management, but there a few other ones that I like.
Gopher Hole: What is the experience like being in North Carolina? Did you take much time to adjust to it. Obviously, it is warmer than here.
Cullen Russo: It took a little time to adjust to. It is a lot different down there being away from home and being away that far. Last year in Iowa, it was a little bit easier because it wasn’t that far from home, but being out there by myself, I didn’t have any friends out there, so I have been making new friends
Gopher Hole: Does it help having teammates there?
Cullen Russo: They were great. We all bonded really good.
Gopher Hole: Are you able to stay in touch much with your friends and family via the Internet or cell phone?
Cullen Russo: I stay in touch with a few people, but I have lost a couple of friends because of being so far. It is hard to communicate with them.