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2019 Men's NCAA Tournament

Jarrett Culver has emerged as Texas Tech star because of family’s faithful presence

One reason: The Big 12 Player of the Year’s father is the team’s chaplain

Growing up in football-crazed Texas, it’s no surprise that was Jarrett Culver’s favorite sport as a kid. Culver, the Big 12 Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Year, was a two-position threat as a running back and receiver in his youth, and the main reason that he likely avoided becoming a big-time football standout can probably be attributed to one word.

Faith.

“Football games were on Sunday, but I had to go to church on Sundays,” Culver said Friday in Minneapolis. “So I didn’t play.”

But for Culver, the son of a pastor, basketball never stopped, and it became his favorite sport (he also, briefly, played soccer in high school, once scoring four goals in six games). And now, four years after finishing his junior year of high school with no major college basketball offers, Culver is the star of the defensive-minded Texas Tech team that beat Michigan State 61-51 on Saturday night to make it’s way into the national title game Monday against Virginia.

While this is a Final Four that might lack star power because Zion Williamson and Duke were eliminated in the Elite Eight, it doesn’t lack stars. Culver may not have been a star before the season started, but in a sophomore season in which he averaged 18.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game on his way to becoming the first player in Texas Tech history to win the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year award, the “star” title fits him just fine.

At 6 feet, 6 inches and 195 pounds, Culver is lean and chiseled, using his strength to put the defensive clamps on opponents and using an impressive 7-foot-1-inch wingspan while also powering himself to the rim to the tune of 22.4 points per game in his past five NCAA and conference tournament games.

He was a tough cover the entire season.

“I’ve really been impressed with him,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo before his Spartans lost to Texas Tech. “I think he’s got versatility, and he’s a scorer that plays defense. Sometimes those are harder to come by, and that’s what makes him so special.”

Culver, who has played himself into the NBA draft lottery if he decides to leave college at the end of the season, comes from a special family.

His oldest brother, Trey Culver, was a two-time NCAA indoor high jump champion at Texas Tech in 2016 and ’17 and tied the fourth-best indoor jump in NCAA history last year. He has his sights on the 2020 Olympics.

The middle brother, J.J. Culver, was named a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics first-team All-American and the Sooner Athletic Conference Player of the Year while averaging 17.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3 assists this season at Wayland Baptist University.

Add Culver’s success at Texas Tech this season and you have three talented brothers who, growing up, were ultracompetitive.

“Me being the youngest, I played with older guys all the time, and my brothers always pushed me to make me better,” Culver said. “When we were younger and not mature enough, we’d push it too far and get into fights. But we’re brothers, that’s going to happen, and at the end of the day there’s nothing but love.”

The love is strong for the Culvers, who roll deep as a family to support the brothers’ athletic pursuits. Culver’s mother, Regina Dunn-Culver, has been documenting her son’s Final Four run on social media this week while taking a few days off from her position as a director of a day care center.

The family faith is equally as solid thanks to Culver’s father, Hiawatha Culver, who is the pastor of Rising Star Baptist Church in Lubbock and also the Texas Tech team chaplain.

“My dad is a great role model, and just having him around the team and having him give motivational talks and prayers before games helps out,” Culver said. “If we practice on Sunday, my dad would come up and talk to us. If we don’t practice, I’m at my dad’s church. My routine hasn’t changed at all — God is the priority in my life.”

Another priority: helping Texas Tech advance to Monday’s title game.

When Culver and his teammates took the court for practice on Friday, a good portion of the fans who filled one side of the lower section of U.S. Bank Stadium wore the red and black of Texas Tech. Culver is excited about giving those fans something to cheer about on Saturday.

“We’ve accomplished something that’s never been done before at Texas Tech, and everybody is excited,” Culver said. “We just want to try to keep this going.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright, and watching the Knicks play an NBA game in June.