How five players deciding to stay at Texas Tech fueled a Sweet 16 run in year one under Mark Adams

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Recruiting, to a certain extent, can be an art in persuasion.

So, when Kevin McCullar Jr. – a 16-year-old at the time from San Antonio’s Wagner High School – first visited Texas Tech, Mark Adams didn’t just attempt to persuade McCullar. He also bribed him.

“When you come watch defense with me,” McCullar recalled Adams telling him, “you’re going to get all this candy.”

Adams had jars everywhere in his office, McCullar remembered, filled with every type of chocolate and candy imaginable. Watermelon Sour Punch Straws were the bargaining chip for McCullar. It’s still a reason he watches defensive film with Adams, though these days – in Adams’ new office – the jars are a little bigger.

McCullar, coincidentally, has a part in that, too.

When it comes to Texas Tech, a lot has been made about the newcomers that have helped fuel the Red Raiders to the Sweet 16 for the third time in the last five years. There are seven of them, after all.

Still, it’s impossible to know where Texas Tech would’ve been without the five players that stayed after Chris Beard’s departure to Texas, and voiced support for a mid-60s assistant coach who had never been a Division I head coach before.

“That’s the main reason I stayed,” McCullar said in San Diego last week, “to stay with him.”

When Beard left for Texas, McCullar said there was a lot of uncertainty about his future. He’d grown to love west Texas and the idea of ​​re-doing his recruiting experience didn’t sound appealing. He started telling people, including Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt, if Adams was named head coach, he’d stay in Lubbock.

McCullar wasn’t the only one.

At the time, Terrence Shannon Jr. was going through NBA Draft prep and weighing his options. He had heard that Adams wasn’t going to join Beard at Texas with the hopes of being a head coach. Shannon hadn’t decided his future yet, but he wanted to help Adams with his.

“I texted Kirby and I said… the only way I was going back to Texas Tech is if coach Adams was the head coach,” Shannon recalled. “I told him that, he thanked me for my input and he said he’d take it into consideration.”

And probably more consideration than Shannon thought at the time.

“I think when I interviewed Kirby, I said, ‘Look, I’ve been interviewing for this job for five years. I’ve been here working every day, ‘”Adams recalled,” and I think one of the things that Kirby said he didn’t realize how much our players supported and appreciated me. “

They had their reasons. McCullar said Adams was dedicated as an assistant, often doing behind-the-scenes work that wasn’t as appreciated on the outside. Shannon said he’ll sometimes check with Adams when he looks tired, only to find out Adams had been watching a sleep-depriving amount of game film the night before.

Shannon also saw early on, that under the leadership of Adams, this Texas Tech team had the talent to make it here – a day away from playing two-seeded Duke for a spot in the Elite 8. It’s part of the reason he and his 10.5 points per game average decided to come back to Texas Tech for another year. Now he just doesn’t want it to end.

Against Notre Dame, in the Round of 32, it almost did. One game after their best offensive night of the season, the Red Raiders struggled shooting. It was a one-point game at halftime. In the locker room, Shannon said Adams talked to the team.

“He was expressing how bad he didn’t want to send us home,” Shannon recalled, “and how he didn’t want this to be the last time he was talking to us, and I felt that for him.”

On Wednesday, in his opening statement at Chase Center, Adams touched on that.

“When I think back putting this team together with seven transfers and five back, I had no idea how special this team would be,” Adams said, “so certainly exceeded all my expectations.”

That feeling wouldn’t be possible without the five returners for Texas Tech – the ones who knew Adams when his candy jars weren’t as big.

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