On Tuesday night, the Texas Tech men's basketball team added another first: a one-and-done.
Zhaire Smith signed with an agent and is likely getting selected in the NBA Draft this summer.
Smith, an uber athletic 6-foot-5 guard, will be able to live the dreams shared by so many young basketball players thanks to his tireless work ethic and development through the work of Texas Tech coaching and support staff.
It's funny, when the news broke Tuesday it seemed like a select few Red Raiders fans felt as though Smith — who played a total of 37 games — needed an extra year to polish some of his raw talent and skills.
Never a good thing to read the Twitter feed, but I think it serves as a small reminder that the Texas Tech basketball will be fine. Albeit, the Red Raiders will certainly miss the human highlight reel, who flew through the air before slamming the ball through the rim with the force of Thor.
Yes, all of those dunks were fun to watch but there were a few more freshmen making contributions in their own special way.
Specifically, Jarrett Culver.
The 6-5 guard was always pushing Smith throughout the season during after-practice shooting drills, workouts and during their short stint as roommates. In some ways, you could say Culver played a small part in the development of Smith into a viable mid-first round pick in the NBA Draft.
But let's table that discussion for another time.
Instead, since Smith will not return for his sophomore season, let's focus on what Texas Tech returns with Culver as one of the top scorers and becoming the potential face of the program from a player standpoint.
The former Coronado standout averaged 11.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season. At times, Culver and Smith were battling for second place when it came to scoring average on the team behind senior guard Keenan Evans.
Frankly, if you weren't paying attention, Culver displayed a more polished offensive game but may have been missed because Smith provided the must-see moments.
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard knew the special talent he signed, though.
“I think we saw a glimpse of what Jarrett Culver can be tonight, a special young player,” Beard said after Culver scored 21 points to defeat Wofford last November. “And a lot of learning lessons for him out there tonight, too. We’re going to enjoy watching that tape together after we eat some turkey (Thursday).”
Wofford head coach Mike Young was also complimentary. Young helped his Terrier squad earn a 79-75 road victory over North Carolina.
“We saw him in all of those games, Maine and South Alabama, BC (Boston College). I saw him in all those games, and I liked him,” Young said of Culver. “I knew he could shoot the basketball. Did I expect him to have 21 in here? Probably not. But, boy I’ve seen him do some things that raise an eyebrow. That kid’s going to be a really good player.”
Well, people will begin to see how much of an impact Culver — as a shot creator, three-point shooter and driver — had when he takes the floor in his second collegiate season.
The Lubbock native scored in double figures in 20 games, behind Smith (27) and Evans (31), while also filling up the stat sheet with his fervor on the defensive end. He ranked second on the team with 27 blocked shots and 41 steals.
Again, Smith was good. And there's no denying that fact as the Red Raiders advanced to the program's first Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament.
But as Tech coach Chris Beard said time and time again: Culver and the other scholarship freshmen, Davide Moretti and Malik Ondigo, were pretty good, too.
And they can only get better with time and work, which is something Culver will have this offseason.
Don't forget, Culver was not able to participate in some offseason workouts due to his rehabilitation work. As a junior at Coronado, he suffered a torn labrum and, in a true show of grit, played with the injury until he elected to have surgery following his senior season.
"Coming in my first year, I was hurt," Culver said. "So I kind of got to see the game a lot from the sidelines. It actually taught me a lot. When I came in, I just told myself I'm going to play as hard as I could every possession. I don't think anything has changed from that year to this year. I'm going to still play hard and do the best I can for my team."
One aspect that could use work is free-throw shooting, which Culver will get to improve during the spring, summer and fall. He made 70 of his 108 attempts for a 64-percent clip and is likely to get to the line more next season.
"Just back to work," Culver said about not having to worry about rehab going into his sophomore season. "Every day you've got to get back to work, just focus on this season coming up and the offseason. Trying to get better every day. Be the best player you can be for your team. So I'm just focused on that right now."
Yes, not having Zhaire Smith for another season will hurt, but Texas Tech appears to be in good hands with Culver, who will likely be another success story when it comes to his overall development as player and person.
One thing that he has, though, is that tireless work ethic a certain NBA-bound player had a season ago.
And you know how that season turned out.
"I just feel like, if everybody gets one percent better, it makes our team a lot better," Culver said. "Just working hard every day, doing the best that we can to get better for each other will take us a long way."