Derek Culver among newcomers yet to earn Huggins’ trust

West Virginia freshman Derek Culver dunks during a preseason scrimmage. The four-star recruit hasn’t played in an exhibition or the Mountaineers’ season opener.


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It’s been a question Bob Huggins asked his large class of first-year players since the opening day of practice:

“How can I get you into the game if I can’t trust you to do the right things?”

Using West Virginia’s box score from its season-opening overtime loss against Buffalo as evidence, Huggins’ run of trust with his new players was short and anything but sweet.

No first-year player started and none played more than the nine minutes that backup point guard Jordan McCabe played.

When the game reached the overtime period, only McCabe and junior-college transfer Andrew Gordon saw action.

Freshmen forwards Derek Culver and Emmitt Matthews Jr., as well as freshman guard Trey Doomes did not see any action.

It’s unclear how much any of that will change when the Mountaineers (0-1) play Monmouth (0-3) at 7 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

Huggins said Doomes will likely redshirt, while the 6-foot-10 Culver continues to find himself in the doghouse.

“Derek’s situation has been Derek has to do what he’s supposed to do,” Huggins said. “That’s been his case for, pretty much, forever. You’ve got to do what you’re supposed to do. It’s not that hard to go to class. It’s not that hard to be on time. It’s not that hard to be on time for study hall. It’s disrespectful to people when they expect you and you don’t show up.”

In all, the Mountaineers’ class of seven scholarship players are still waiting to make an impact.

If any comparison can be drawn, it could be the 2011-’12 season, in which West Virginia began the season with eight first-year scholarship athletes.

That class included a redshirt freshman in Kevin Noreen who had missed the prior season with a knee injury.
It also included six true freshmen and a junior-college forward in Dominique Rutledge.

This season, the Mountaineers have a redshirt freshman in guard Brandon Knapper, who missed last season with a knee injury, four true freshmen and two junior-college recruits in Gordon and Jermaine Haley.

The size and make-up of both classes may be where the comparisons stop.

“The biggest difference was we had the best player in the Big East in [Kevin Jones],” Huggins said about the 2011-12 team. “There was no doubt KJ was the best player in the Big East.”

Truck Bryant was also a senior leader on that team and Denix Kilicli rounded out the trio of players on that roster with playing experience.

That left open the door for those first-year players in 2011. While freshmen Pat Forsythe and Tommie McCune transferred out of the program during the first semester, the Mountaineers won 19 games, played in the NCAA tournament, but lost nine out of their last 13 games.
This season, the Mountaineers’ roster is balanced by more experience.

Esa Ahmad is the only senior, but forwards Lamont West and Sagaba Konate have two years of Big 12 basketball under their belts, as does point guard Beetle Bolden. Junior forward Wes Harris started all 37 games last season.

While there is opportunity for the younger players, Huggins won’t force them into action unless they are ready to contribute.

If they don’t contribute, then West Virginia’s depth is hurting. And if the upperclassmen struggle, that mixture is what produces the effort shown against Buffalo.

Allowing 99 points, 11 3-pointers and a 50-46 rebounding deficit wasn’t all on his newcomers.

“Our upperclassmen weren’t very good,” Huggins said. “Beetle was very good. The other guys were still not guarding their guys and throwing the ball all over the place.”

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