Why Kevin McCullar decided to return to KU basketball instead of staying in NBA Draft

·4 min read
Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports

Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr. had one goal throughout the NBA Draft process.

He wanted to feel certain he would be picked before the early entry withdrawal deadline of May 31.

“Everybody was telling (him), ‘Hey, we like what you do and you’re going to have a long pro career,’” McCullar’s father, Kevin McCullar Sr., told The Star. “But at the same time, nobody can really say, ‘Hey, we want to take you at the 47th pick’ or ‘We can take you.’ You’re not hearing those kinds of words.

“It’s all a gamble. But one thing is for sure: (Bill) Self wanted him back. It’s an easy plug. … With the timetable, you don’t really have time to sit there and play what if — you’re going to go with (what) you’re guaranteed.”

The elder McCullar emphasized his son didn’t want the uncertainty of not being picked. The KU guard also didn’t have a guarantee of a two-way contract from any NBA team, though McCullar Sr. said he believed his son would’ve landed one later in the process when teams are able to discuss those offers more completely.

At a press conference earlier in the year, Self indicated McCullar would’ve had two-way offers after leaving Texas Tech.

“You want to hear some guarantees, man, or at least something that’s solid,” McCullar Sr. said. “It was kind of like (Kevin’s thought process was), ‘I can always have that situation next year, but I can go back and try to win a national championship. I can go back and try to turn myself into a first-round pick.’”

McCullar Sr. told The Star that his son worked out with the Boston Celtics, missed a workout with the Brooklyn Nets due to illness and was supposed to work out with the Golden State Warriors next week. He had nine NBA workouts scheduled for the next month.

Where was McCullar Jr. projected to land, according to NBA teams?

“Hearing the total feedback, you need to hear — there’s anything from maybe getting drafted late second round to undrafted free agent or having to do a two-way deal or maybe just playing in the G-League,” McCullar Sr. said.

McCullar Jr. had some other workouts next week, but the KU guard told Self his decision to return to Kansas on Tuesday night. It was no secret that Self wanted McCullar back.

“Self made that clear before we even left campus,” McCullar Sr. said. “Coach always stayed in touch. He went to the combine and he’s always on the move. But even with his busy life, he always kept Kevin in his thoughts and picked up the phone, checked on us and checked on him the whole time.

“It’s easy for us to say he can go back to somewhere where he’s loved and give him another chance to work on some things. Try to clean up that deep ball and the rest should be history after that.”

For his final year, McCullar Jr. plans to pursue a master’s at KU but hasn’t decided on the subject.

McCullar Sr. says Kansas fans should expect to see a similar level of defense from McCullar next season.

“He’s going to do what he do,” McCullar Sr. said. “There’s a lot of games last year we probably wouldn’t have won ... without his defense or the plays that he did make. We (were) Big 12 Champions, but it was a couple of games that came down to the wire. Pretty much on the tail end of those, it was No. 15 making those plays.

“That’s the thing (about) coach Self — a lot of stuff Kev does, a lot of people don’t see. Me as his father, I see it. I feel like coach Self, at the same time, sees that same thing and he ain’t afraid to speak about those situations. That’s what we appreciate about him.”

After shooting 29.6% from beyond the arc last season, McCullar Jr. is focused on improving his shooting.

“To get into the NBA it’s all about offensive production,” McCullar Sr. said. “That’s the main thing for him, just being more consistent, limiting his turnovers (and) trying to shoot 35(%) or better from three. Hopefully, he will get more opportunities to shoot three.”

Despite the consensus from NBA teams that he needs to improve his shooting efficiency from deep, don’t expect McCullar Jr. to just hoist up three-pointers. After all, McCullar is all about playing within his role.

“We’re not shying away from (his shooting struggles), but there’s also other factors that people don’t understand,” McCullar said. “Kevin was never going to go out there and say, ‘(Shoot), I’m going to jack up seven threes and see what happens.’ That wasn’t his role. We let Gradey (Dick) do that. Gradey’s number was called to do that. Jalen Wilson’s number was called to do that.

“He will always play his role, whatever it is. At the end of the day, whether he’s successful later on or not — now or later — he’s going to do what it takes to win ballgames.”