Over three months ago, Texas Tech appeared to be on the cusp of a rebuild. In college basketball, rebuilds are slow, painful, and long. It takes time for a coach to bake their culture into a program, to prove themself as a recruiter, and establish a resume of success. You could have had a tremendous amount of faith in Mark Adams and still have accepted that it would likely take some time before the Red Raiders found themselves playing on Monday night again. Faith and patience can co-exist, especially when you evaluate the hand Adams was initially dealt.
At one point, Texas Tech was at risk of losing four of its five leading scorers from the 2020-21 season. Kevin McCullar was the first Red Raider to re-up his commitment after Adams was named head coach. Mac McClung and Terrence Shannon Jr. were testing the professional route, while Marcus Santos-Silva and Kyler Edwards entered the transfer portal.
All of the momenta was headed in the direction of a rebuild. But Mark Adams, who has yet to coach his first game as head coach at Texas Tech, may have already secured his first win — this November, the team he puts on the court will look far from a program stuck in mediocrity. The Red Raiders look more than competent to compete in the upper echelon of the Big 12.
One of the easiest ways to avoid a rebuild is to preserve continuation. This may be Adams’ first season as head coach in Lubbock, but his identity has been all over this program for years. His aggressive defensive scheme has set analytical records and inspired copycats across the nation. Current and past players are more than familiar with his trademark toughness and grit. The easiest way for Adams to have continuity with his program would be to earn the commitments of returners, and he did just that.
The impact and importance of Terrence Shannon Jr. returning to Lubbock can not be overstated. If he remains healthy, Shannon will be one of the best players not only in the conference, but in the nation. He was a Julius Erving Award finalist last year. There’s a real chance Shannon is one of the best players in the Big 12 when all is finished next season.
Marcus Santos-Silva returns with his strong presence on the glass. Santos-Silva grabbed 89 offensive rebounds last season, the most by a Red Raider since 2010. The achievement is even more impressive when you factor in the shortened season. There’s still a lot to be discovered with the rotation when you consider how loaded the frontcourt is now, but Santos-Silva is certainly positioned for a big role on this team.
And of course, you have the return of Kevin McCullar, the personification of everything Adams wants to see on the basketball court. On a team that will likely be known for its defense, McCullar will be the leader of that identity. He was one of only two players (Cade Cunningham, OSU) in the Big 12 last year to average at least 1.5 steals and 0.5 blocks per game. According to Jon Rothstein, he’s also expected to play the role of lead initiator on offense. It’s an interesting change, but if it works, McCullar will be one of the most versatile players in the nation.
The non-starters returning to Texas Tech hold great promise as well. Chibuzo Agbo completely changed the dynamic of the tournament game against Arkansas in March, making two big three-point shots late in the game. He’ll play a big role on this team, and will likely be one of the best shooters in the rotation. Clarence Nadolny looked much more comfortable with his playmaking last season and remains a pest on defense. If you’re unfamiliar with this program, it might be easy to overlook these two players coming off of quiet seasons. But the tape clearly shows great promise in their games, promise that should come to fruition next season.
Adams got his returners back to solidify an impressive, experienced core. Yet even after this impressive display of recruiting, Adams was far from finished. Adams and his staff would go on to wage war in the transfer portal, landing some of the biggest names available, as well as some impressive hidden talent at the mid-major level.
The biggest splash Adams made in the transfer portal was that of forward Kevin Obanor. There’s not much else to say about Obanor that you don’t already know. He was one of the five best players to hit the portal this offseason, and anyone telling you otherwise is lying. Any player, regardless of competition level, that averages just shy of a 20-point double-double on near 50/40/90 splits is a rare, elite talent. He’ll be the best player on this team for stretches of this season.
Bryson Williams out of UTEP is another transfer I expect to have a substantial impact. Williams is a 6-foot-8 forward who gets to the rim at the efficiency and frequency of a guard. I think Tech will try to run the offense through him in the high post at times this season, and I think it will work. The shooting efficiency dipped last season, but I’m still confident he can shoot over 30 percent from deep on two to three attempts per game.
These two are the obvious headliners from Adams’ portal haul, and there’s good reason for that. They’ll come together to form what should be one of the most lethal offensive frontcourts in college basketball. But even as Adams landed names that some weren’t familiar with before, there are reasons to be excited.
Davion Warren is an extremely interesting player. He functioned as a point guard last season at Hampton, but can likely play off-ball on the wing as well. His efficiency wasn’t flawless last year but he was one of the most heavily relied on players in the nation, averaging a whopping 16.2 shots per game. Only three Red Raiders since 1992 have had a season where they averaged more shots than that.
Mylik Wilson has the tools to be a really important piece of this rotation. He’ll need to cut down the turnovers (2.2 per game last year) and hopefully, the shotmaking from deep will see some positive regression, but he feels like a guy Adams can get the best out of. The best-case scenario is that Wilson turns into this team’s lead initiator, and he does so while playing the impressive defense he showed at Louisiana.
Sardaar Calhoun had a relatively quiet year at Florida State but was a monster at the JUCO level. There’s a real chance he finds himself in the starting lineup this season because of his impressive deep shot and length on defense. He’s also a freak athlete, something I think will be highlighted well while cutting to the basket.
Speaking of length, Adonis Arms looks like he could cause issues defensively. His role offensively may be limited to catch-and-shoot jumpers and the occasional drive to the basket, but his physical skill set is intriguing.
Then, of course, you have KJ Allen. The inaugural recruit of Adams’ tenure is quite the polarizing figure. He’s a former “Last Chance U” star and has accumulated some jaw-dropping dunk highlights. I still think the way he’ll get consistent minutes on this team is in the four spot, but his rare build and versatility are exciting.
Even the players who haven’t played a second of college basketball — Daniel Batcho and Ethan Duncan — are interesting cases. Batcho has the size to be a consistent shot-blocking threat, and Duncan was one of the best shooters in Texas high school basketball last year. I’m not sure how much either of them will play next season due to all the experience on the roster, but the potential is certainly there.
Analyzing all of the pieces individually makes it clear: this team has the talent to avoid a down year and immediately compete in a loaded Big 12 slate. But the way this roster is seen in all of its glory is when pieces are not analyzed individually but as a whole. If you’re having problems thinking of starting lineups or hypothesizing rotations, or projecting roles, you’re not alone.
This team has the potential to play three of the best big men in the conference at once, or run a lineup of all wings. The majority of players on the roster can play multiple positions and will be more than comfortable in a “switch everything” defense. There are wings that can get into the paint and keep up with guards defensively. There are big men who can shoot the three and handle the ball confidently. There are players with All-Big 12 Defensive Team potential that will fill multiple roles on offense.
There’s a lot still to be discovered about this team, but the talent is there. The future of Texas Tech basketball looked uncertain at best just a few months ago. But the first offseason orchestration by Mark Adams has erased all doubt. One of the best defensive architects in the game has now proven himself as a recruiter, whether you’re a highly-touted transfer or an NBA-caliber player. Disregard the preseason rankings and rumblings; the Red Raiders are in prime position to compete at the top of the Big 12 and among the best teams in the land. The reload has been finished. Now, we wait for the results.