There has been a lot of anticipation around Mountaineer faithful for freshman Derek Culver to see some playing time. Culver came in as a highly touted recruit, but has had a bit of a rocky start in his early career. The 6-10 forward from Boardman, Ohio was suspended before the team traveled to Conway, South Carolina for the Myrtle Beach Invitational in mid-November.
According to West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins he had been late for class or missed a class. Culver had to sign a contract with Huggins that he would be on time for study halls, class, and complete his homework, if he ever wanted to suit up in the Old Gold and Blue again.
While suspended, he didn’t participate in team activities. Instead, he was working in the team weight room.
“It was difficult.” As Culver expressed what he was going through. “Like any kid that loves basketball if you’re not playing you want to be around your team – interact with your team – go to practice. It was a humbling moment for me and I needed that. It made me understand what was important and what was not. So, it was a learning experience.”
He may have made some mistakes, but his teammates stayed in contact with him giving him support. “My teammates were 110% supportive of me. They text me they called me ‘hey stay engaged – we need you – your important to us.’ Having that feeling from the team, that makes you feel like one.” Derek explained with a smile.
He’s been fulfilling his agreement and was reinstated to the team last week. Culver practiced all week and finally competed at a collegiate level and the crowd gave a roaring ovation.
“Most definitely appreciate that Mountaineer Nation, thank you for that one. That felt good. That surprised me too.” Said a humble Culver.
“I would say I was nervous.” Described a grinning Culver. “Seeing all the people out there and all the lights. My debut was highly anticipated. So, it was kind of like ‘oh man’ at times. I felt like I was jittery at times, but I felt like I did good.”
“I’m not going to lie to you, it was there the whole game.” As the freshman commented whether the nervousness ever went away. “From tip-off to the musket going off. It was a surreal feeling. I wouldn’t say I was more nervous because I was playing in college. I was just like ‘wow this game finally came.’ Out of all these years like ‘wow I’m playing.’ So, to answer your question I never got comfortable.”
Much like his start in Morgantown, his first time out on the floor was a bit rocky. His first two attempts were blocked before he gathered an offensive rebound and used a turn around one-hander to get his first points as a Mountaineer.
“I was like, ‘man I can’t even buy a bucket if I wanted to right now.’ With that being said, I kind of felt like all the stuff I went through to get to this game, that was how it had to go down. I felt like I had to go through that to get my first bucket because I felt I like It wasn’t going in to just get an easy bucket. I felt like I had to go through some turmoil to get my first couple points.”
Huggins said it would take some time before he could catch up with his teammates and jokingly said that Culver would fully understand the offense in about three years. However, Culver is indeed talented and physically ready to contribute right away.
“He doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing, but he’s our best athlete, by far.” Explained Huggins “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 kind of drill them and stuff, then those other nine guys are around you and flying around, it’s a little different.”
West Virginia returns to action next Sunday (December 30th) to take on Lehigh inside the WVU Coliseum at 2:00 pm