It did not take forward Derek Culver long to become the focal point for the West Virginia University men’s basketball team during his freshman season.
Once he joined the team in December following an early-season suspension for violating team rules, Culver almost immediately turned into one of the best big men in the Big 12 in his first season of collegiate basketball.
Now add five-star recruit Oscar Tshiebwe to the West Virginia roster and the situation gets very interesting in the WVU front court.
Tshiebwe, Culver and the rest of the Mountaineers opened their summer practice session Wednesday in Morgantown, ahead of next month’s trip to Spain. The media came armed with questions for West Virginia coach Bob Huggins about how he plans to deploy his two supremely talented but also very similar forwards.
Huggins confirmed he does, in fact, plan on playing both Tshiebwe, listed at 6-foot-9, and Culver, listed at 6-10, at the same time. It’s a situation Huggins said he hasn’t had prior to this year during his WVU tenure.
“I think, probably, the last time we were able to play two bigs together like that was Kenyon [Martin] and Jermaine Tate [at Cincinnati], and they were both 6-9,” Huggins said. “That worked out really well for us.”
Martin, who went on to play 15 seasons in the NBA with a brief stop in the Chinese league, was the national player of the year for Huggins’ Bearcats in 2000. He and Tate helped lead Cincinnati to the Conference USA regular-season championship and No. 7 final ranking in the Associated Press Top 25.
That’s high praise for the pair of Mountaineer underclassmen. Huggins, however, was not ready to go too far with his praise for the pair, but he was clear in what he expects from that at first.
“A lot of rebounds,” Huggins said. “I think we can go back to dominating the glass like we did at one time.”
Among the rule changes coming to college basketball this season will be a slightly different 3-point line.
The NCAA decided to push the line back to the same distance used in international competition — 22 feet, 13/4 inches from the center of the basket. Previously, the 3-point line was at 20 feet, 9 inches.
That is not much of a difference, but it was done with the hope of opening up play inside the the arc. Huggins isn’t buying it.
“You think 6 inches opens up the floor?” Huggins said. “Do you think a foot [opens the floor]? I don’t. You think a foot opens up the floor that much? I don’t think so. And you can’t open it up more in the corner. How are you going to open it up in the corner? You see more guys called out of bounds standing out of bounds trying to shoot 3s in the corner. You used to never see that.”
Huggins said he doesn’t think the move will end up making much difference. The players will shoot from behind the line farthest from the basket.
“I don’t think it makes that much difference,” Huggins said. “We’re going to play in the Garden [Madison Square Garden]. Go in early and watch guys warm up. Every single one of them shoot behind the NBA line. The furthest line is the one they’re going to gravitate to and shoot behind. I don’t think it’s that big a deal. And it’s not that far.”