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A March Without Madness

Mar 29 2020
Photo by
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Photo by
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Jarrett Culver
Minnesota Timberwolves
Mar 29 2020

It’s coming up on one year since I helped cut down the nets in Anaheim, one year since Texas Tech went to the Final Four for the first time in school history by beating Gonzaga — top-seeded Gonzaga, 33–3 Gonzaga. And I still remember that game like it was yesterday. I won’t ever forget it. It was like a heavyweight fight. They made plays. We made plays. It was crazy.

And it was so fun.

They had a great team, and they were so well coached. I remember they were doing plays and stuff that I wasn’t expecting — stuff that hadn’t been on any of the film. I was talking to one of our coaches during a timeout and I was like, “What’s going on? What’s happening?”

And he was like, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen them do this before.”

Thanks, Coach.

I just can’t believe that nobody this year will get to feel the way that I felt last March.

They had a great team, but down the stretch we made some big shots and free throws — as well as some big plays on defense. We won 75–69, and it was such a big deal that after the game there were guys in our locker room who were crying. I couldn’t believe it.

I never thought I’d ever get to cut down a net. You see great players do it. You see teams in March Madness do it. But when I was watching the NCAAs with my family in our home in Lubbock — and when we were filling out the family bracket we used to do every year — I never thought that would be me. And then there I was, after all the confetti and stuff had stopped falling, standing on a ladder in the Honda Center with scissors in my hand. It was like I was living a dream — my dream.

The feeling after that game was something I still can’t explain to people. Everybody was so … happy.

And I just can’t believe that nobody this year will get to feel the way that I felt last March. With everything going on in the world right now, I know that sports aren’t a huge deal. They’re insignificant, really, right? But at the same time, they’re important in some very specific and very special ways. And nothing else shows off the greatness of sports — nothing else shows off why sports matter — like March Madness.

I really miss it. And I know I’m not alone.


Before last season the Big 12’s coaches picked us to finish seventh in the conference.

Seventh.

This was coming off the best season in school history. We’d won 27 games. We’d finished second in the Big 12, and ended the season ranked 14th in the country. We’d gone to the Elite Eight for the first time ever. And we had eight guys coming back. Eight.

But I guess everybody thought we were a one-hit wonder.

I mean, I get it. I’m from Lubbock. We moved here from Dallas when I was three. My father has been a pastor at a Baptist church on the east side ever since. I grew up in Lubbock. I grew up in that church. My family has been filling out our own March Madness brackets for our own little tournament for as long as I can remember. I never won. My dad usually did because he knows so much about basketball. But sometimes my mom would do well because she always picked Cinderella teams — and the tournament is all about Cinderellas.


John Weast/Getty Images

So I knew the drill. We’re Texas Tech. We’re the school that hardly ever makes the tournament. And when we do, we never make a run. So we’re probably not going to make another one, right? I mean, we’d already been Cinderella once.

But knowing we’d been picked to finish seventh was how we motivated ourselves all season. I remember going into the gym for practice early in the year, and in everybody’s locker there was the newspaper saying that we’d been picked seventh — and it was highlighted. We felt disrespected. We wanted to be better than what everybody was expecting us to be. We wanted to go farther and be more than what everybody thought.

So all season we’re practicing together, playing together, going to movies, going to dinner. You’re with these people all the time and they become like your brothers. I saw my family a lot in Lubbock, but some of those guys, they didn’t see their families as often. So it just became so connected. And we didn’t want it to end.

And throughout that whole journey — all of us,  every time we called each other, before we’d get off the phone, it’d be like, “I love you, bro.” Everything we’d been through was like a bond that we would have for a lifetime. We took that to the court. This team might be better than us, but at the end of the day, no matter what happens, I’m going to give you my heart because you’re my brother. I don’t care if I make a mistake, you got my guarantee that I’m going to play my hardest. I promise that.

That took us to the Big 12 championship, and to a lot of success throughout the whole season. And when March Madness came, we were ready.

You could see that was how we played. We played for each other over everything. It wasn’t, I’m trying to play good so I can get drafted. I’m trying to do this so NBA scouts will see me. It was more of, I don’t want to stop playing with you, my brother. I’ll give you my heart tonight because we got a goal that we want to accomplish. That was our mindset.

Greg Nelson/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

And my brothers and I went so far together. All the way to the national championship game. And even though we lost, it was beautiful.

I get why people say sports are silly or unimportant — especially at a time like this. But what’s silly about that?


For me, having grown up in Lubbock, I knew the Texas Tech basketball program hadn’t always been the best. So to be part of something like last year, it meant a lot to me. Throughout my whole life people from Lubbock have always supported me, and the Tech fans are part of that. My connection to the city and the people will last a lifetime for me.

The support in Lubbock is just crazy. We don’t really have any NBA teams or anything. Texas Tech is all we’ve got. So even though we lost in OT to Virginia in the national championship game, it was just like everybody was still proud of us. We were all hurt, but they gave us something to have joy about. “We support y’all. We know y’all didn’t win, but at the same time y’all made history, y’all did stuff that’s never been done.”

So our run affected a whole lot of people, not just us — but boy did it affect us. Me and my brothers had always talked about, “If you do good in March Madness you’re probably going to get a lot of looks from the NBA. You’ll probably get drafted.”

And then it really happened. I’m just so blessed.

Taylor Baucom/The Players' Tribune

And even though I’ve been playing up in Minnesota, I still have connections back to Lubbock and Tech. My dad had started leading pregame prayers for the team when I was a freshman. And he’s still the chaplain for the Tech team, and that just shows the connection he has with Texas Tech and Coach Beard and his staff in the basketball program.

And because I know Tech and Lubbock so well, it makes me miss March Madness this year even more. I mean, that run last year changed my life in so many ways. I almost won a national championship. I was a first-round pick. And I got brothers and coaches who, like I said earlier, will be with me for a lifetime. The memories will be with me, too. I’ll always be able to say, “I went to the Final Four with a great team and great people.”

But no one will be able to say that about this season. And that’s just sad.

I don’t know when everything will be back to normal. I don’t even know if things will ever be the way they used to be.

There’s a lot of uncertainty right now, a lot of fear. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be shut up inside my house. I don’t know how much worse things are going to get. I don’t know when everything will be back to normal. I don’t even know if things will ever be the way they used to be. I’m praying that it will be soon.

Sports are something that everybody can count on, and March Madness was a special part of that. Every year there are huge upsets, breakout players, classic games, crazy fans, crying cheerleaders — and big runs. I’m proud that Texas Tech’s run last year is part of that legacy. And I want that legacy to continue.

I can’t wait for March 2021.

Jarrett Culver
Minnesota Timberwolves