WVU’s Culver Records Double-Double In Short Time
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia freshman Derek Culver has made a splashy debut in his first two games in a Mountaineer uniform, but the opposition level which awaits will be an order of magnitude higher as WVU embarks on its Big 12 schedule in just a couple of days.
After missing the first ten games of the season due to suspension, including a period in which he was reportedly kept out of the Mountaineers’ practice facility, he has shown the talent that made him highly regarded prospect coming out of Youngstown, Ohio. In his first game back against Jacksonville State, he scored four points, grabbed a rebound and blocked a shot in ten minutes of action, but then upped the ante considerably in Sunday’s win over Lehigh. In 19 minutes of play, he rang up a symmetrical double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) while adding an assist and another block to his total.
“I have the best coaching staff in the nation,” the personable Culver said after the 78-68 win. “They prepare us very well. Coach (Erik) Martin has been helping me prepare.”
Two of the biggest items that Martin, who tutors the Mountaineer big men, has been working on with Culver are pace of play and leverage.
“Working on taking my time — that was the biggest thing I have to work on,” said Culver, who showed good patience when getting the ball inside against the Mountain Hawks. “Before, I was speeding up, rushing my spots. After I got my first bucket and got to the foul line, I felt good with it.”
Positioning, including establishing a low center of gravity, has also been on the syllabus. While getting low to win battles might be more associated with offensive and defensive line play in football, it also has its place on the basketball court. Offensive players who can “sit down” on the legs or hip of a defender establish better leverage and put the defensive player into a position where he can’t move as quickly or jump as high to defend against shots.
“It’s night and day,” Culver said of the difference between the level at which he has to execute in collegiate play. “Working in the post here, it’s low man wins. In high school or on the preparatory level, I was one of the bigger guys, so I didn’t have to worry (about getting low). That’s not the case here. There are guys as strong as me, and able to push me out of my position.”
“We all try to get him to slow down. He was that way in high school — he just goes too fast,” Huggins said of the teaching effort, which every coach has participated in. “Once he gets slowed down, he’s pretty good.”
Huggins also praised Culver’s potential on the boards.
“He could be an elite rebounder. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. His strength and his athleticism — he’s got good hands,” the veteran coach said.
For his part, Culver believes his rebounding is largely instinctual. He does know, though, that effort, of a lack of it, is also a big factor.
“Rebounding is something that comes natural. That’s something that Huggs always presses in our heads,” he said. “Rebound, rebound, rebound, rim run. Going up for the rebound is a must. If you don’t go up for the rebound you know where you are going — over next to Huggs.”
When Culver goes up for rebounds, there’s a different visual to be observed. There’s a ferocity with which he attacks the ball, a certain zest that highlights the athleticism which Huggins mentions. Teammate Wes Harris has been showing the same in recent games, although he doesn’t have Culver’s more imposing build, but the results have been the same — big rebounds in big situations. That intensity will be of even more importance as the schedule flips to conference play.
Putting up excellent numbers against Lehigh is one thing. Doing so against the Big 12, where the talent and size dwarfs the opposition he has faced so far, is another matter. Culver admitted as much, noting that “Huggs was telling me about it”, but one suspects he won’t back down from the challenge. With Sagaba Konate indefinitely sidelined, the Mountaineers desperately need help inside, and Culver’s early showing offers at least some optimism that he can provide a boost.