MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The triple-double is one of the great unicorns for West Virginia basketball.
No Mountaineer has recorded one since 1975, when Jerome Anderson had 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against Boston University. (Feel free to use that data to con someone into buying you a free round).
Perhaps another 45 years will pass before we see another, but with his performance on Saturday, Derek Culver demonstrated why he’s as likely a candidate as any to one day break that drought. The sophomore power forward is developing the kind of well-rounded game one needs to accomplish such a feat.
The scoring and rebounding have always been there. Culver had 19 points and 14 rebounds against Kansas State, marking his sixth double-double of the year and 14th of his still-young career.
It is as a defender and distributor that Culver has shown the most growth this season.
“Last year he was basically a post defender,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “This year, because we wanted to play he and Oscar together, one of them has to guard a perimeter guy because most teams can’t play with two posts.
“So Derek has guarded a lot of 6-foot to 6-4 guys that are way more agile than your normal 6-10, 270-pound guy. But he likes it.”
Culver showed off his skills in a pair of recent games, pickpocketing a couple of steals near the top of the key before going coast-to-coast for dunks. He also showed there is still some room on the learning curve, with his biggest minus on Saturday coming when he tried the same thing in the backcourt and picked up a cheap foul in a game where he was his team’s only consistent scorer.
With a player of Culver’s caliber, so much of coaching is about helping him reach the next level, and that’s what Huggins is attempting to do by using Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson as a model.
“Tristan Thompson signed for the max contract in Cleveland, and they never throw him the ball,” Huggins said. “But he offensive rebounds it. He defensive rebounds it. He can switch it and guard guards, which is a luxury. I said to Derek ‘That’s what you need to model your game after.'”
Culver finished with two assists Saturday, though there were certainly another four or five left on the table had his teammates hit their shots. At some point that figures to start happening, though there’s a chance it will require Culver to come back for his junior year to really have a chance at the elusive triple-double.
Huggins concedes that the big man is likely the best passer on the roster, though.
“Sadly, he might be our best passer,” Huggins said, preferring that a guard would be wearing that crown. “It hurts me to say that.”
But even if West Virginia’s guards were passing at a high level right now, the dish Culver kicked out to Miles McBride for a three-pointer to put the Mountaineers up 54-43 would stand out as a jaw-dropper. Culver barely had the ball in his hands after receiving a post-entry pass before whipping it outside the arc.
He credited that one to good work with his eyes.
“When I get the ball in the low post, I don’t try to look where I’m going with the ball. I tried to downplay it and look toward the bench,” Culver said. “I saw [Deuce] at the top of the key and kicked it out to him.”
Impressively, Culver put on Saturday’s show playing through pain.
He briefly checked out of the game early in the second half, saying that he banged his funny bone. Culver spent the next several minutes on the floor clenching and unclenching his right hand, missing only 1:08 of actual game time.
“It was like fire shooting through my hands,” Culver said. “I just hit the funny bone, I guess, the tendon or whatever. Doc just shook my arm and got me right.”
He also said he only checked out because he worried he would turn the ball over in his numb-armed condition.
“Then coach would have taken me out for real,” Culver noted.