It’s been quite the month of January for junior forward Derek Culver.
The first day of the month saw the departure of Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia’s other consistent big man, to the transfer portal, leaving Culver as the team’s lone major presence down low.
While the move has allowed the Mountaineers to space the ball out a bit more as they attempt to develop a new rotation, Culver has paid the price.
As the team progressed through the month, West Virginia was struck by a potential worst case scenario: a halt in action caused by COVID-19-related issues within the program. The Mountaineers saw three games postponed over the span, which lasted two weeks.
They returned to the floor late last week for the first time since Jan. 9, with some players — including Culver — still trying to return to form.
“I wasn’t really myself the first two games,” Culver said Friday. “I can tell — me personally — I can feel like I’m coming back. It most definitely took a toll on me a lot. When I came back, I just wasn’t like myself. I could feel, like when I’m going up and down the court, my legs weren’t really under me.”
Against Kansas State on Saturday, Culver went for eight points and four rebounds — both below the big man’s average numbers to that point in the season. The following game, Monday against Texas Tech, showed some improvement as Culver finished with 10 points and nine rebounds.
However, one glowing statistic is his time spent on the court. Culver, who averaged a touch more than 28 minutes per game over the Mountaineers’ initial 13 contests, has averaged around 19 minutes over the team’s last two — alluding to struggles with condition as the team rebounds from extended time off.
“If I don’t have my legs, my shot’s going to fall short,” Culver said. “I just have to rep everything out — repetition, repetition, repetition. Once I’ll be able to do that, I’ll be alright.”
Head coach Bob Huggins said that Culver has returned to his old ways, but not the right ones.
“As he and I talked about, he looked like the old Derek rather than the new Derek, and I like the new Derek a lot better than the old Derek,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “He just wasn’t playing strong; he’s playing straight up and down … In Derek’s case, he has to be able to move and, in a lot of instances, move several people because there’s a lot of people grabbing him and holding him and pushing on him. It’s important that he’s in an athletic stance.”
Against Florida on Saturday, Culver is likely to experience another physical battle as Colin Castleton, Culver’s likely matchup from the Gators, ranks among the team’s leaders in personal fouls.