MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Personally, I wish every college athlete would redshirt as a freshman, then play four more seasons with the program with which they originally signed, never giving thought to transferring or turning pro before their NCAA eligibility is exhausted. Then after that, I wish they would all go on to find fame and fortune.
Mountaineer junior forward Derek Culver made a decision recently that from a selfish standpoint I wish he hadn’t. The 6-foot-10, 255-pound native of Youngstown, Ohio, announced Monday that he was forgoing the remainder of his college eligibility and was going to pursue a professional basketball career.
While at WVU, Culver wasn’t always artistic, but he was a first-team all-Big 12 honoree this past season who averaged 14.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. He completed his three years with the Mountaineers 11th in school history in career double-doubles (27) and 14th in career rebounds (799), while also scoring 1,036 points.
His offensive skills may have seemed crude at time, but he was the focus of every opponent’s defense, constantly drawing double teams whenever he touched the ball in the post. That may have created some tough defensive walls for Culver to score over or around, but it also allowed the Mountaineers’ outside snipers room to operate.
West Virginia was better off for Culver’s presence the past three seasons, and it would have been nice for the Mountaineers if he stayed in Morgantown for a fourth. But individuals are allowed to take the path of their choosing – stay, transfer, pro, whatever. Those who demand anything other than freewill are pressing their own selfish terms on another, or I won’t do that … on Culver or transfers like Emmitt Matthews or Jordan McCabe.
Each has a right to do what they want, and in Culver’s situation, it may not be a bad decision for his personal opportunities. Obviously Derek isn’t a basketball player who can knock down 20-foot jumpers with consistency, and another year or even two in college wouldn’t have changed that.
Very few NBA mock drafts have Culver listed anywhere in the two rounds, so he’s obviously got an uphill battle to make it to the highest level of pro basketball. That doesn’t mean he can’t make it, though, or earn a nice living playing at another level, because have the combination of size (6-foot-10, 255 pounds) and athleticism that few humans have.
Culver’s ability to carve out a spot for himself in professional basketball – be it NBA, G-League or overseas – is going to be determined on the things he does well – rebounding and defending others in the open floor – not by what he doesn’t do well – scoring the ball.
There is room in pro basketball for players who are willing to accept that exact role. Take the NBA for example. Admittedly everyone recognizes the league’s tops scorers, the one-name guys like LeBron, Steph and Giannis. But there are plenty of players who thrive at rebounding but have limited offensive ability. Those guys can earn a handsome paycheck as well. Of the top five rebounders in the NBA this season, none also are among the top 30 scorers. And between them, they make an average of $13.3 million per year. Tristan Thompson is the poster child. He has put together a 10-year NBA career that has earned him more than $106 million while averaging fewer than 10 points a game because he can rebound (8.7) and defend at a high level.
That’s who Culver should emulate. He has the size and athleticism to do just that, and another year at WVU wouldn’t have changed his skill set.
I’ll miss Derek because he did help the Mountaineers win, and he also was an intelligent (three years Academic All-Big 12) and entertaining person to deal with.
Because of that, I selfishly wish he had stayed around West Virginia for another year, but I don’t always get my wishes.
After all, I also wish my teenage daughter never argued with me, I wish t-bone steaks cost a dollar a pound, and I wish the Mountaineers never lost an athletic contest. But somethings are just wishes of fancy, not reality.
For Derek, good luck following your wishes, but the Mountaineers will miss you.