Emotion Drives WVU’s Derek Culver
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Some athletes perform stoically on the fields and courts of play, giving no indication as to their emotional states. West Virginia sophomore Derek Culver is not in that category.
The Mountaineer big man not only is an easy read, at least in terms of facial expressions, but at least some of his game is fueled by his intensity. A Culver that isn’t wound up, or isn’t playing with an edge, usually isn’t performing at his peak efficiency. That’s not to say that effort isn’t there, but if the Youngstown, Ohio native isn’t playing with the grittiness that is a hallmark of his hometown, he’s more likely to have a stretch like the one that he went through the past week, when he scored just 13 points in his past three games.
Culver was clearly frustrated with his performance, not to mention the hacking, grabbing and bumping that he continues to absorb with little officiating relief, and it seemed those emotions had the potential to fester further when he did not start against Oklahoma State on Tuesday evening. Culver played just 4:54 in the first half, scoring one bucket and getting just one rebound in that time. However, he gathered himself and harnessed the emotions he felt in a positive manner, understanding that he wasn’t being benched for poor play, but rather as part of a tactical move to go with a smaller lineup. And, maybe, for just a bit of motivation.
“I did take that as a challenge to go and show what I have,” Culver said after snaring nine additional rebounds, scoring four more points and blocking two shots in nearly 15 minutes of second half action. “I wasn’t upset. It wasn’t bad. The coaches and I are good. I came out in the second half and I felt like I capitalized.”
Culver also helped lead a defensive charge that put the clamps on an OSU offense that scored nearly at will in the first stanza. He helped shut out OSU’s Yor Anei, who had eight first-half points, over the final 20 minutes. The Cowboys scored just three buckets in the paint in the second half, with just two of those by frontcourt players.
“We played a lot better defensively in the second half. We were locked in, communicating better, pointing to each other and helping each other out,” said Culver, who prefaces or punctuates every answer with a “Yes sir.” “That’s how we were playing defense earlier in the year.”
“You can’t underestimate what Derek did,” head coach Bob Huggins noted. “I thought the first couple of shots he blocked got their attention a little bit. They were a little less eager to drive it to the rim after that, and then he scored for us. When Derek got in there, I think he rebounded everything.”
Also helping Culver was the support of the home crowd, which stayed with him, and helped fuel his intensity.
“It’s always good to have the crowd on your side, to pump you up. I don’t look for it, but when it’s there he does help,” he admitted. “That makes me feel well, that the entire Mountaineer Nation is behind me. I haven’t been doing what I am accustomed to doing, and was getting stagnant with my play. Having them behind me in that crucial moment felt good.”
Coming off the court, Culver stopped to talk with one supporter, whose message might have been culled straight from the coaching staff.
“He told me to keep my head on the rim, play through contact and be physical,” said Culver, who smiled throughout and ended the conversation with a hug with the fan, showing that it’s not just frustration or game intensity that his expressive features can show.
If he keeps putting up performances like those of the second half against Oklahoma State, there are like to be more smiles than frowns as the Mountaineers continue their push for high postseason seedings.