MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — When West Virginia coach Bob Huggins signed a three-year deal to play Youngstown State, it was as a favor for former assistant Jerrod Calhoun, now the head coach of the Penguins.
Calhoun came to WVU during Huggins’ first season at the school, first as the director of operations before getting a promotion to assistant coach in 2011.
He was hired at Youngstown State after serving as the head coach at Fairmont State for five seasons.
The deal also had an unintended consequence: It gave forward Derek Culver a chance to go home.
“It’s going to feel good,” said Culver, who is averaging 11.0 points and a team-leading 9.6 rebounds per game for the Mountaineers (9-1). “To be able to go home and play in front of my home crowd and my family will be great.
“I don’t really want to get too excited about it. If I get too excited, that’s when things usually don’t go too well for me.”
The 6-foot-10 Culver made a name for himself in the basketball world playing at Warren G. Harding High School, located in Warren, Ohio, which is about a 25-minute drive north.
Youngstown, though, is where he was born and raised.
The 6,000-seat Covelli Centre — where WVU and the Penguins (5-5) will play Saturday — became a place where he could work on the finer points of his game.
“It’s not even a two-minute walk from where I grew up,” Culver said. “I know that place like the back of my hand.”
Youngstown, once known as no-nonsense and hard-working steel town — “It’s not the prettiest city. It is what it is,” he said. — Culver, too, takes that type of reputation with him into games.
Powering through double-teams and fighting for rebounds has been a constant for him.
His latest addition to his tough-guy resume was 16 points and 16 rebounds in Saturday’s 83-57 victory against Nicholls State.
“I came out of it with a busted-up lip,” he said. “No big deal. It happens a lot when elbows are flying around.”
That physical part of the game is what the NCAA tried to clean up this season with rule changes.
Huggins has hinted throughout the season that the game isn’t being officiated accordingly.
He took exception during the Mountaineers’ loss to St. John’s, where Red Storm defenders were constantly allowed to grab and pull on Culver throughout the game.
Against Nicholls State: “They were physical,” Huggins said. “They probably watched the St. John’s tape. They figured if St. John’s could get away with it, they could get away with it.”
At times, the frustration shows on Culver’s face during games. In reality, any man could only take so much physical play directed at him.
Off the court is a different deal, because Culver is not about to make this a situation of himself against the referees.
“I haven’t seen much of a difference, but that is no disrespect to anyone or against the new rules,” Culver said. “I don’t want to get hounded and I don’t want anyone thinking that I’m complaining about not getting calls. For the most part, it’s still pretty physical down low.”
He said he would try to stay level-headed this week leading up to his homecoming.
WVU will be taking final exams this week to end the fall semester, which will help keep him focused.
Eventually, Culver knows the thought of going home will begin to settle in.
“I don’t have anything special planned just yet,” he said. “I’m sure I can talk my mom into cooking a couple of my favorite dishes.”