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'They're a blue blood for sure.' Kansas' Kevin McCullar Jr. still has admiration for Gonzaga program he considered playing for

Mar. 22—SALT LAKE CITY — Kevin McCullar Jr. sat on a training table in Kansas' locker room with a Powerade, wearing a blue Jayhawks hoodie and Adidas sweatpants.

In an alternate universe, McCullar could've been in a locker room just down the hallway at the Delta Center, wearing a navy Gonzaga sweatshirt and Nike sweat pants.

The two teams McCullar was picking between after transferring from Texas Tech in 2022 will meet on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament's Round of 32.

The fifth-year senior guard won't participate in the game after Kansas coach Bill Self ruled McCullar out of the NCAA Tournament because of a lingering bone bruise in his right knee. McCullar missed two Big 12 regular-season games with the same injury and returned to play three games before missing the Jayhawks' conference tournament opener.

A skilled defender who's turned the corner on offense since arriving in Lawrence, McCullar became one of Gonzaga's top targets in the transfer portal after losing Chet Holmgren and Andrew Nembhard from the 2021-22 roster.

McCullar heard from a variety of the nation's top programs while exploring his options and developed a close relationship with Gonzaga assistant Stephen Gentry and head coach Mark Few.

"I would just say the pace they play at really kind of intrigued me when I was getting recruited to try to help my offensive game and take the next step I needed to take at that time when I was transferring from Tech," McCullar said. "How they play on offense is really just fluid and they get up and down, for sure."

After trimming his list to two schools, McCullar , who'd also entered his name in the NBA draft, announced his commitment to Kansas on May 19, 2022.

"I was split between them both," McCullar said, "but after talking to coach (Bill) Self and the game plan he had for me, I wouldn't trade it for the world for coming here."

The Zags still reloaded through the transfer portal, picking up commitments from Chattanooga's Malachi Smith and LSU's Efton Reid, and benefited from three other players — Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton and Drew Timme — electing to return to school after testing draft waters.

McCullar didn't choose the Bulldogs, but still has plenty of admiration for the Gonzaga program he might have been playing for under a different set of circumstances.

"Just the amount of games they've won, in March especially," McCullar said. "... The amount of games and players they've produced to get to the next level and the games they've won when you need to win them most, that's pretty much what put them on the blue-blood map and yeah, they're a blue blood for sure."

McCullar had another run-in with Gonzaga, months before he engaged in conversations with Few's staff about a potential move to Spokane.

During his junior season at Texas Tech, a fifth-ranked Zags team met the 25th-ranked Red Raiders for a marquee nonconference matchup at Footprint Arena in Phoenix. Gonzaga won 69-55, in part because the Bulldogs were able to hold Mark Adams' starting wing to 5 of 15 from the field and 0 for 4 from the 3-point line. McCullar still had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Red Raiders.

"They had a real different lineup, but I just remember how fast they played," McCullar said. "That was a big key for us when I was at Tech was getting back in transition and stopping the ball. We know they rebound at a high rate and I think they still rebound at a high rate now. So, really boxing out and trying to get back and stop them in transition."