Derek Culver continues to shine in Sagaba Konate’s absence

MORGANTOWN, W. Va — To be quick to the point, West Virginia forward Derek Culver is well aware of people’s interest in his story.

He does not shy away from the fact that he missed the first game this season, because he was late for everything from classes to a practice and study halls.

He was then suspended for the Mountaineers’ next nine games when the tardy slips continued to pile up.

Culver is quick to nod in agreement that the suspension did him some good and made him realize he had to take responsibility for his life.

He says all of the right things, even when asked about it repeatedly. He has never dismissed that part of his story by saying, “It’s in the past and I’m ready to move on,” which seems to be the standard line for any athlete these days who get in any sort of trouble.

“I realized how much the game meant to me and how much I loved the game when I was out,” he said after scoring 17 points and adding nine rebounds during Saturday’s 61-54 loss against Texas. “Basketball is such a big part of my life. Without the game, I really don’t know where I’d be right now.”

It’s just that there is more to the 6-foot-10 freshman than just the hard work he put out in order to come back to the Mountaineers (8-6, 0-2 Big 12).

“Yeah, I’m kind of looking forward to the day when I can talk about something else,” Culver said.

That something else just may be his impressive stat line since becoming eligible, which stands at 11.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

Throw out his first game back against Jacksonville State, in which he played just 10 minutes, and his numbers stand at 13.3 points and 9.3 rebounds.

“Derek’s potential is through the roof and I’ll probably being saying that about him for his whole career,” West Virginia point guard Jordan McCabe said. “He’s so athletic and he’s just now scratching the surface of what he can be. If he keeps working hard, Derek is just going to keep getting better.”

Culver’s sudden emergence comes at the same time as Sagaba Konate’s absence from the Mountaineers with a right knee injury.

During his postgame press conference, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins spoke about Texas’ strategy to take direct drives to the basket without Konate’s shot-blocking ability on the floor.

“If Sags is back there, it doesn’t matter, but he’s not back there and he’s not going to be back there, so we have to figure something else out,” he said.

Huggins was asked if the phrase, “he’s not going to be back there,” meant Konate may not return this season.

“[The media] asked me a question and I gave him what I thought it was,” Huggins said. “He didn’t make the trip.

“It ends up being a family situation. It’s not my decision. It’s he and his family and he’s 21-years old, so he should be able to make those kinds of decisions for himself. It’s a family situation and they have to do what they think is right. At the same time, we can’t sit here and wish him back. We can’t sit here and cry, ‘Oh, woe is me,” because he isn’t here. We’ve got to figure out a way to win.”

Part of that figuring could be determining just how much of a focal point Culver is suddenly going to become within the Mountaineers’ offense.

Culver still has shortcomings, which he is the first to bring up. His one turnover against the Longhorns came when he tried to rush a pass to Wes Harris and threw it too quick and too hard when Harris wasn’t expecting it.

“I’ve got to slow down and not rush things,” he said. “I tell myself that constantly.”

But, his game is showing more positives than negatives at a time when the Mountaineers need as many positives as they can get.

If WVU suddenly asks Culver to become more of a focal point, the forward said he would be ready and it would certainly add another talking point to his story.

“I’ll never complain about more of a workload,” Culver said. “With that being said, if the opportunity was given to me to take on more of a workload, I would be happy to do it for my team. If not, I’ll just keep hustling and keep working. I’d like to see it, but I know I still have a lot of work to put into my game.”

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