WVU’s Culver Makes Debut, Learning From The ‘Turmoil’
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Just 6:05 into Saturday’s contest against Jacksonville State, West Virginia freshman Derek Culver entered a college game for the first time in his career.
But Culver was reinstated to the team earlier this week, and barely six minutes into his first game, he was thrown into the fray.
The WVU Coliseum crowd greeted the former four-star recruit with a hardy ovation.
“I appreciated that from Mountaineer nation,” Culver said of his welcome. “That surprised me, to be honest, and I really appreciated it.”
But the big applause didn’t calm his nerves.
“I’m not going to lie, I was jittery the whole game, from the tipoff until the musket went off,” Culver said after WVU’s 74-72 victory. “It was like a surreal feeling, ‘Wow I’m playing in college after all these years.’ I never got comfortable to be honest.”
His first entry into the stat book was not a memorable one – a turnover mere seconds after he came onto the court. He missed a layup a short time later.
“I was like, ‘Shoot, shoot, shoot. Aww, this is not starting off like I wanted it to’,” Culver said shaking his head.
But slowly he started to calm down and make some plays. He grabbed an offensive rebound with 5:55 left in the first half and immediately turned and flipped in a jump hook for the initial points of his college career.
“For a while I couldn’t buy a bucket,” chuckled Culver after WVU’s 74-72 victory over the Gamecocks. “After all the stuff I went through to get to this game, I guess that was how it was supposed to go down. My first bucket wasn’t going to be an easy one; I had to go through some turmoil to get my first couple of points.”
In all, the big freshman scored four points, made two-of-four shots, had a rebound, a block and three fouls in his debut.
His teammates, though, said the Youngstown, Ohio, native didn’t come close to showing what he’s truly capable of doing.
“He’s a very good post player,” explained WVU redshirt freshman point guard Brandon Knapper. “He’s probably the best passer on the team, other than the guards. Once he faces up, that’s when he’s at his best. From there he can make a move and score the ball, or he can make a pass. I feel like once he gets into a rhythm, he’s going to really show people what he can do.
“It will take him a couple games to get comfortable,” added Knapper, who had a career-high 12 points in the victory. “He’ll figure out what he needs to do. He doesn’t really have to do anything spectacular; just do your job.”
It’s been a long road to get on the court for Culver. He was a highly-regarded recruit at Warren G. Harding High School, but a dispute with his coach kept him from seeing any game action at the end of his senior season. Then he needed a year at Brewster (N.H) Academy to get academically qualified. All along Huggins stuck with his commitment with the skilled big man, and Culver finally arrived at West Virginia this past summer.
Then came the suspension, supposedly for missing classes, and his entrance into a college game was further delayed.
“It was difficult,” admitted Culver of the suspension. “Like any kid who loves basketball, you want to be around your team and go to practice. It was a humbling moment for me, and I needed that because it made me understand what was important and what was not.
“I feel like I need to hold myself accountable. I need to put my ducks in a row.
“My teammates were 110 percent in support of me the whole time,” he added. “They called me and texted me, saying ‘Stay engaged, we need you.’ Having that feeling from the team, that makes you feel like one.”
At 6-foot-10 and a chiseled 255 pounds, Culver seemed to stay in shape during his month-long suspension.
“While I was out, I was able to lift weights and run,” noted Culver. “I just wasn’t able to practice with the team. With that said, I was still able to get my conditioning in. I actually conditioned harder than usual because I wanted to come back and make a statement. I feel like I did my best to do that.”
Getting a feel for the college game and West Virginia’s system will come over time, he said.
“I’m not necessarily far behind,” stated Culver. “I have to refresh everything in my head. Once I go over it after we get back from (Christmas) break, I feel I’ll catch on pretty quickly.”
His head coach says the learning process may take a little longer, though.
“Probably by the middle of his junior year,” deadpanned Huggins when asked how long it will take Culver to be comfortable.
“Right now he still doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing,” added Huggins. “But he is our best athlete, by far. He has to get a cram course of how to play. It’s going to take a while. It’s a whole lot different. You’re trying to work with them and drill them on stuff. Then when those other nine guys are around you and flying around, it’s a little different.”
Culver played just a small part in Saturday’s win. Wes Harris (20 points) and Lamont West (18 points) led WVU’s offense.
The Mountaineers will likely need to lean on Culver more in the future. West Virginia’s junior center Sagaba Konate did not play against Jacksonville State and may miss several more weeks while he tries to rehab his injured right knee.
Culver won’t replace Konate by himself, but he could potentially help ease the pain of his absence.