J.J. Culver had never even thought about 100 points. Never even thought about posing like Wilt Chamberlain. But he had thought about 50.
That was the school record at Wayland Baptist University heading into Tuesday night. It was a mark that had eluded J.J. over three-plus years at the small NAIA school in Plainview, Texas. It had eluded his younger brother, Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Jarrett Culver, throughout his career as well. So on occasion, the brothers would playfully urge each other: “J, you gotta get that 50-piece!”
On Tuesday night, at halftime of a performance for the ages, J.J. had 51.
By the end of the night, the 6-5 senior guard had scored 100 points in Wayland Baptist’s 124-60 victory over Southwestern Adventist. It was the second 100-point game in NAIA history. It was the first since 1954.
When Jarrett FaceTimed J.J. after the game, the No. 6 pick in the 2019 NBA draft was at a loss for words. The call began with incoherent screams. “I don’t even know what to say, bro,” Jarrett told the newly-minted Most Famous Culver.
Hours later, as text messages inundated his phone, J.J. spoke with Yahoo Sports, in part to answer one simple question: 100 points … How?!?
How Kobe inspired Culver
The answer begins this past summer, and not quite with Wilt, but with the second-highest single-game scorer in NBA history, Kobe Bryant.
“I saw some of his videos,” J.J. said of the former Laker great. “He said when he scored 81, he was conditioned really well. So in the summer, I ran a lot.”
100 points for Wayland’s own JJ Culver tonight. That’s insane. pic.twitter.com/G7Lnmw6pdQ— Tommy King (@RTKingWT) December 11, 2019
He practiced with Jarrett. Worked out at Texas Tech. Grinded. All of which is why, on Tuesday night, in the second half, with the game out of hand but history within reach, when Wayland Baptist coach Ty Harrelson asked J.J. whether he was conditioned to keep going, his answer came naturally.
“All summer, coach.”
Harrelson had emptied his bench, but left Culver, the NAIA’s leading scorer, in to chase 100. To drive by and shoot over double-teams and denials and diamond-and-ones and triangle-and-twos. He shot 62 times from the field and made 34. He was 12-of-33 from beyond the arc. He hit 20 of his 27 free throws.
With around a minute to go, he was at 98. He beat his man on a backdoor cut, finished at the rim, and got fouled.
Sitting at 98 points, here’s JJ scoring to make it 100! Look at the reaction from the crowd and his brother Trey! pic.twitter.com/oCP3ACGel8— Pete Christy (@pchristy11) December 11, 2019
He missed the free throw, unintentionally. “I really tried to make it,” he assured. But then he admitted: That round “100” does sound a bit better.
Why Culver’s coach left him in the game
The box score, from afar, reads like a gimmick. No other Wayland Baptist player took more than three shots. None scored more than eight points.
But Harrelson, the head coach, insists it wasn’t. That many of the shots were within the flow of the offense. “Out of those 62,” Harrelson told Yahoo Sports, “there were probably only two that I didn’t like.”
“A hundred points wasn’t planned,” Harrelson continued. “Getting him the ball is planned. It’s always planned. It’s been planned for at least the last two years. The amazing thing was that he was making so many of them. And our guys were going, Let’s just let him keep going.”
But with the game over before halftime, should Harrelson have left Culver in?
He’s aware it’s a legitimate question. He’s aware there’ll be criticism. He’s already gotten some in his inbox. But his response?
Essentially, that he was in a no-win situation. Because he loves J.J. He raves about the player, and raves about the human. In the second half, as Culver crept toward triple digits, he thought: “I don’t want to be the coach that stops that from happening.”
“I coach him really hard,” Harrelson reasoned. “And there’s been times where he probably could’ve broken school records, and I stopped it. I’ve either taken him out of the game, or I’ve told him, ‘Go get your assists.’ … And today I just said, ‘As long as [you] take the right shots…’
“If I woulda had one player say, ‘Coach, I don’t like this,’ or, ‘No, we don’t want to do this,’ we woulda changed,” Harrelson said. “But I think they realized they had a chance to be a part of something special.”
So they kept feeding Culver. “All the guys on our team like him – that was obvious in the way they kind of manipulated the game,” Harrelson said. Around the 80-point mark, Culver said, he started hearing from teammates in huddles. Around 92, he started hearing from fans in the bleachers: J.J., you need eight more!
“So I tried to get it,” Culver says.
And he did. In the locker room afterward, he recreated Wilt’s famous photo.
And he created memories for everybody – including his older brother, Trey – who bore witness.
“It’s something we’ll never forget for the rest of our lives,” Harrelson said. “We’ll be telling our kids and our grandkids about the time J.J. scored 100.”
More from Yahoo Sports: