Culpepper Rises High Over Adversity

Randy Culpepper was just a high school sophomore in Memphis, Tenn., playing at the end of a blowout game. He got a breakaway, had nothing to lose, and wanted to see if he could fly high enough.

He definitely could.

"I dunked it," Culpepper said. "Ever since then, I've been dunking."

The catch? Culpepper was 5-foot-9 the first time he threw down, and he's not much taller now.

Now playing at the University of Texas-El Paso, Culpepper is a lightning-quick guard with explosive hops and an uncanny knack to score. Despite largely coming off the bench in his first two seasons at UTEP, Culpepper still managed to eclipse 1,000 points and average more than 15 points per game.

A lot of those points were of the rim-shaking variety.

Culpepper, an alumni of iHoops' First Team program, scared off some colleges because of his lack of height. He quieted those doubters early on at UTEP, when in one of his first collegiate games he drove baseline and unleashed a sick dunk over a much-taller Wyoming forward going for a block.

"I think I was mad that game," Culpepper says. "I just took it out on the rim. I drove baseline and somebody jumped and I just jumped right over them. It felt good because I never played on the college level, and the atmosphere when I did it? Everybody went crazy."

In the midst of his decorated UTEP career, Culpepper took time to share his basketball experiences with dunking, his late start in basketball and how he handled a sometimes-frustrating recruiting process.

When did you start playing basketball?
I started playing basketball when I was 13. I wasn't really thinking about basketball (before that). My mom had me in gymnastics, and that basically was what I was doing. My older brother taught me the game of basketball.

How long did it take you to warm up to the sport?
I liked it right away because me and my older brother played on the same team. It's always fun to play on the same team as your older brother.

What does your older brother mean to your basketball career?
Me and my brother have been close since day one. He's the one that put the ball in my hand. You know how little brothers and big brothers go at it. We played one-on-one all the time, and we always ended up fighting because we were so competitive.

My brother always told me, it don't matter how big a person is, how strong he is, just play your game. Size doesn't matter--it's how big your heart is. My brother always stressed that to me.

When did you start thinking you could play college basketball?
I didn't start thinking about that until about 10th grade. My head coach was talking to college teams about me and that changed my perspective on things.

What did you like most about the First Team experience?
First Team is not all about basketball. They teach you about life and teach you how to grow up and use basketball and don't let it use you, which means to take advantage of your education in case basketball doesn't work out.

What was the recruiting process like for you?
My 11th grade year I had quite a few colleges looking at me. My 12th grade year my stock kind of dropped, I guess because of my size or my height. A lot of colleges backed off me.

How much did that bother you?
It didn't really get to me because at that time I wasn't worried about it. I was focusing on high school basketball and whatever happened after that happened.

Why did you choose UTEP?
Coach Barbee and the coaching staff, they used to be a part of the Memphis basketball staff. They're great coaches, and they also stress us about class. The part that made me choose UTEP was when coach Barbee came in for an in-house meeting and he told me that he wasn't going to give me a spot. I had to come in and earn it. That really motivated me.

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