YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Very few college basketball players ever get the opportunity to play in front of their hometown crowd. Unless a player goes to their hometown school or is in a league with their hometown school, there’s not a good chance it will happen.
For Derek Culver at West Virginia, there would normally be a very small chance he would ever get to play in his hometown of Youngstown. A school in a power conference like WVU very rarely plays a game at a midmajor school like Youngstown State, but the stars aligned for Culver and the two programs scheduled a two and one where YSU would play at West Virginia twice and West Virginia would make one trip to YSU.
Culver grew up less than a two-minute walk from the game’s venue, the Covelli Center. Before the game, Culver said he really needed to focus on not getting too excited about getting to a game in his hometown. When the moment came, however, he found it hard to contain his excitement.
“When I was in my hotel this morning, all I could think about was the game. I’m like ‘man, man, the game, the game. I’m actually home about to play in front of everybody I’ve known my whole life’,” Culver said following the 75-64 win. “My hands were leaving sweat marks on my bed I was like, ‘bro, I’ve got to relax’. I tried to force myself to go to bed, it didn’t work.”
Culver said playing in front of everyone he had known for so long was special.
“Playing in front of my friends and family, it felt good. I’ve seen a lot of faces I haven’t seen in a long, long time come out here and support me so it felt good.”
Saturday’s game was also a bit of a homecoming for fellow big man Oscar Tshiebwe. Tshiebwe, originally from The Congo, played high school basketball at Kennedy Catholic in Sharon, Pennsylvania, about a 30-minute drive away.
“It’s like going home for Christmas,” Tshiebwe said. “That was really good, really fun because I’m not from far from here. All those people came to support so that was really good. They showed a lot of love, I really appreciate that.”
What was supposed to be an away crowd was very receptive of the duo, giving each big cheers when announced in the starting lineup.
WVU coach Bob Huggins said he knew how excited the two big men would be for the game.
“Derek’s come a long, long way. He’s come so far as a person, as a player, as a teammate, he’s come a long, long way,” Huggins said. “They were excited about it.”
The pair combined for 36 points and 13 rebounds in the win, powering WVU to their 10th victory of the season.