West Virginia junior forward Derek Culver took the blame for West Virginia’s 87-82 loss in the Jimmy V Classic against Gonzaga. That’s a sign of leadership and responsibility, both areas in which Culver has grown just as tremendously as he has in his on-court game. But while he did have a couple of plays that worked against the Mountaineers down the stretch, it should be just as strongly noted that without him, WVU would have been toasted by the top-ranked Zags, just as it was in their first couple of meetings back in 2012, and probably would have at least one more loss on the 2020-21 schedule.
Echoing a statement made by Bob Huggins on his post-game radio show, Culver pointed out a pair of lost balls that turned into Gonzaga points.
“I will put the blame on myself. I lost this game for us. There were a couple of times I had the ball and blindside help came and knocked the ball out of my hands. I feel like I lost the game for me and my teammates,” the Youngstown, Ohio native said.
It wasn’t clear whether Culver was referring to a pair of situations on the defensive end where he had apparently grabbed a rebound, only to see it knocked away, or to possessions on the offensive end, where the constant hacking he endures resulted in a pair of turnovers. Pinpointing the events, though, isn’t the important thing. It’s that Culver, who somehow continues to labor in the shadow of others, is saying and doing all the right things. That should play well in the locker room and with his teammates on the court, and if West Virginia is able to put together a deep postseason run this year, it could be one of those “little things” that mean a lot more than they do at first glance.
In the meantime, Culver deserves more praise for his play, which has been the best and most consistent on the Mountaineer team this year. While drive-by analysts like ESPN’s Jay Bilas annoint Deuce McBride as West Virginia’s best player, it’s actually been Culver this year. That should be taken as no slight to McBride, who has obviously improved his game in many areas in the offseason, and might at some point earn that title. Through four games, though, Culver has been the mainstay.
Playing more than 30 minutes per game, he leads the Mountaineers in scoring, rebounding (both offensive and defensive) and blocked shots. He’s second in steals, and third in assists(!) and field goal percentage. He’s scoring consistently on a team that is making just 31.2% of its 3-pointers, and faces a lane that’s often packed more tightly than a California freeway.
While he should take pride in his achievements so far, he’s quick to acknowledge mistakes and the few items that have gone wrong. Again, that’s a sign of maturity.
“They didn’t show us anything that we couldn’t guard,” he noted of Gonzaga’s offense. “That’s what makes me so mad. We just shot ourselves in the foot.”
While that might be true from one perspective, in looking at his play, it’s hard to find much fault. There has been the occasional turnover or bad foul, but without everything he has done so far this year, and in his career, West Virginia wouldn’t be nearly as good. Hopefully he, and those watching him, keep that in mind.