McCullar will not play in the NCAA Tournament

Kansas guard Kevin McCullar Jr. (15) and the Jayhawks leave the field after their 75-70 overtime loss to Kansas State on Monday, February 5, 2024 at Bramlage Coliseum. Photography by Nick Krug

Updated at 8:32 pm Tuesday:

SALT LAKE CITY — Kansas coach Bill Self said graduate guard Kevin McCullar Jr. will not play in the NCAA Tournament as a result of a bone bruise in his knee.

“Kevin says his knee pain never went away, and it's too bad for him to be able to contribute,” he said shortly after the Jayhawks arrived at their hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.

However, center Hunter Dickinson said, “He looks great” and has participated in full-contact practice the past two days.

McCullar will conclude his season having played in 26 games, often as KU's leading scorer and one of its leaders on both sides of the ball, but also seeing his efficiency decline dramatically since he began dealing with a bone bruise.

He previously missed games against Oklahoma State (Jan. 30), Baylor (Feb. 10), Texas Tech (Feb. 12), Texas (Feb. 24), BYU (Feb. 27) and Cincinnati (March 13), the latter. One after exiting midway through the previous game in Houston. Self previously said he should not have played with McCullar during that Houston game.

On Tuesday, Self reported that McCullar “tried and was going through rehab and it didn't get better,” in contrast to his improvement in previous weeks.

“So after consulting with the doctors and Kevin and where he is mentally and physically right now, it's best for him to go ahead and shut it down,” Self said. “Unfortunately for us and unfortunately for him, but there was no decision to be made because he couldn't leave.”

Later Tuesday night, McCullar posted a statement on He won't play.

“I did everything I could to get back to playing at a high level to help my team,” he wrote. “This has included 6-7 hours a day with the Kansas coaching staff for over a month now, not participating in practices but competing in games. While trying different treatment options, it is simply not where you need to be to play the game.”

McCullar, who is in Salt Lake City with the team, will now have to find a way to influence the game from the sidelines, as he has missed in previous games where Self said he was almost acting like an assistant coach.

“I don't want any negative energy at all, so Kevin's role now won't be, 'Oh, I can't play,' it'll be 'Oh, I can't play,' it'll be his role — and we'll certainly convince him to be that,” Self said. “I got to put my stamp on this in ways I didn't think I would if I was actually playing.”

“And that's what winners do. They do it. It would be very selfish not to do it. And he won't do it.”

Either Nick Timberlake, who previously started in McCullar's place, or Elmarco Jackson, who Self said has been training well, will instead step into the starting lineup for Thursday's NCAA Tournament opener against Samford.

“The message has been 'deliver' every day for the last six weeks,” Self said when asked about his message to the Reserves. “There's really no other message. It's put-up or shut-up time. There's really no message. Both kids have trained well and worked hard and they're ready to be out there.”

Self said McCullar “hasn't trained in basically six weeks.”

“He didn't cause any more damage to his knee but he tried to do it and said he couldn't leave,” Self said.

Article imageNick Krug/Journal World

Kansas players DaJuan Harris Jr., left, Kevin McCullar Jr., center, and freshman Chris Carter, right, exit the team bus as the Jayhawks arrive in Salt Lake City, Utah on Tuesday, March 19, 2024. Kansas head coach Bill Self revealed to members of the media About the team's decision to prevent starter Kevin McCullar from participating in tournament games as he recovers from a bone bruise in his knee.

Article imageNick Krug/Journal World

Kansas head coach Bill Self speaks with members of the media as the Jayhawks arrive at the team hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah on Tuesday, March 19, 2024. Self revealed to members of the media his decision to hold rookie Kevin McCullar from playing throughout the tournament while he recovers from a bone bruise in his left leg. I rode him.

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written by Henry Greenstein

Henry is the sports editor for the Lawrence Journal-World and, and serves as a staff writer for KU while managing daily sports coverage. He previously worked as a sports reporter at The Bakersfield Californian and graduated from Washington University in St. Louis (BA in Linguistics) and Arizona State University (MA in Sports Journalism). Even though he's a Los Angeles native, he's often been told that he doesn't give off a “California vibe,” whatever that means.

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