KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Derek Culver and Sagaba Konate were separated by just a few feet Tuesday, as both West Virginia big men participated in a light shootaround at the Sprint Center.
Their seasons, though, never intersected and might as well have been worlds apart. Konate’s right knee injury — he was still sporting a brace while working out — has sidelined him since the Dec. 8 game against Pitt, and Culver didn’t return from a first-semester suspension until Dec. 22.
Konate will be on the bench Wednesday night as the 10th-seeded Mountaineers (12-19, 4-14) play seventh-seeded Oklahoma (19-12, 7-11) in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.
Culver will be on the floor and will try to build off his 16 points and 21 rebounds he had against Oklahoma State to end the regular season.
The early season suspension did not stop Culver from earning second-team honors in the league in his first season, as he averaged 12.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
There are dozens of what-if questions to ask about a WVU team that ultimately lost four starters and had players coming and going throughout the roster. In Culver’s mind, there is just one ultimate what-if question, one he has asked himself a million times already:
What if Culver and Konate could have played together this season?
“All the time. I was thinking about that on the plane on the way here,” Culver said. “I was just thinking, “Imagine if Sags was actually healthy. Sags is 265 pounds and can jump out of the gym. I’m 260 and run like a deer. We’d be like Yin and Yang, honestly. It would be the best of both worlds.
“I feel like, once that time actually comes, watch out.”
Culver added he was only speaking his opinion. No official word has come from Konate or from West Virginia on the forward’s future at the school, although Konate has remain engaged with his teammates and has traveled with the team on the road.
Culver said he’s had several conversations with Konate about West Virginia’s potential if Konate does come back.
“We haven’t really got to put the product on the floor how we wanted, but you can tell everyone has the feeling of, ‘Wow, imagine if these two really got to gel,’ ” he said. “Nobody could stop us.”
The intrigue grows more with incoming 6-foot-9 five-star forward Oscar Tshiebwe on his way to WVU next season.
“If you add all three of us, that trio together could really …” Culver began before tailing off. “I’m just speaking, but I really honestly hope we can get to that.
“Having two other high-volume players like that, I don’t understand how we would make any team worse.”
With his focus on the Sooners, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins wasn’t much into what-if scenarios.
“These guys have a lot of confidence,” Huggins said. “They have a lot of confidence to win games. I think that’s been the focus. I don’t think the focus has been on who is out there shooting around. I think it’s more of what we’ve got to do to win.”
The West Virginia-Oklahoma winner moves on to play regular-season co-champ Texas Tech on Thursday.
West Virginia freshman guard Trey Doomes did not participate in the shootaround, but practiced with the team earlier in the day. “He got hit in the mouth a little bit,” Huggins said. “He’s fine. He’s going to have a fat lip, but I don’t think that keeps you from playing.” … West Virginia freshman guard Taevon Horton did not make the trip. The walk-on from Fairmont is still feeling effects of a head injury that kept him out of the regular-season finale against Oklahoma State.