At times, it seemed like Derek Culver was wearing a shock collar last season.
If West Virginia University’s 6-foot-10, 255-pound post player ventured farther than 5 feet from the rim — zap!
So Culver stayed on the blocks, safe inside his comfort zone.
The problem is 6-9, 260-pound true freshman Oscar Tshiebwe shared the same comfort zone. Two behemoths occupying the same space? It didn’t work very well.
The offense lacked fluidity due to a lack of motion and, simply put, there was too much standing around.
Now, for the good news.
That was then and this is now. And now, Culver has expanded his horizons. Honest. Just ask him what he worked on during the offseason.
“I’d say the biggest thing is playing stretched out a little more off the block,” said the junior, “because, you know, I’m accustomed to playing on the block. I’m not a guy that is playing on the wing and catching the ball, one dribble, two dribble to the rack. Being able to attack or dish the ball off to my teammates.
“I’ve always played on the block and not been away from the basket. But, for the most part, I worked on stretching the floor, shooting jumpers, things like that.”
All together now: Hallelujah!
Better still, Tshiebwe also worked on a similar scenario. So now both of WVU’s power forwards are taking 15-foot jumpers instead of forcing continual post moves.
“I can comfortably say that this year, for sure, I will be comfortable shooting jump shots,” said Culver emphatically. “Last year? Aaaah. But this year, for sure. I’ve been taking time out to work on my jump shot.
“I’m working on my motion, no hitch on my shot. Looking at the rim and finding something to shoot at ... just the basic mechanics. I’m pretty comfortable shooting the ball this year. I’ve been shooting it at practice pretty good.
“So, like I said, I’m pretty comfortable with that as far as shooting.”
Culver in his comfort zone can be a fairly intimidating place for opponents. In 2019-20, Culver averaged 10.4 points and 8.6 rebounds with 54 assists and 24 steals.
The problem was shooting. He connected on only 45.7 percent of his field goal attempts — very low for a post player — and made just 51.7 percent of his foul shots (91 of 176), despite leading the Big 12 in free-throw attempts.
Culver’s reaction to those statistics? To his credit, he owns up to them.
“I’m not going to lie, me personally, I kind of struggled last year,” said Culver. “Oscar really didn’t know anything other than playing down low. So I had to play the high post and dish the ball in to him.
“He’s not really comfortable playing in the high post. The roles were reversed. But it was all for the best of the team. It was for the greater good.”
But, again, that was then and this is now.
And now is looking pretty darned optimistic.
“For the most part, we’re jelling a lot better this year,” said Culver. “[Tshiebwe] has worked on his passing and his high-post game is a lot more fluid. So, therefore, it will enable our transition both ways.
“I’ll be able to get him the ball and he’ll be able to get me the ball. We won’t be bringing two different kinds of games to the table, so, therefore, it’s really going to be hard to guard us.”
All because Culver and Tshiebwe were willing to work in the offseason and expand their games.
Versatility can be a beautiful thing.