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‘He Just Couldn’t Breath’: Derek Culver Fights Through Illness to Play 30 Minutes for WVU



(Denny Medley/Big 12)

With how much COVID-19 has loomed over this college basketball season, it is easy to forget that there are still normal illnesses out there in the world too. It was one of those typical illnesses, not COVID, that was nagging at West Virginia forward Derek Culver in the Mountaineers’ Big 12 Tournament game against Oklahoma State on Thursday.

On the ESPN broadcast, sideline reporter Holly Rowe reported that Culver was indeed battling a non-COVID illness. After the game, a 72-69 Oklahoma State win, WVU coach Bob Huggins confirmed it.

“Derek wasn’t Derek,” Huggins said. “When we had him in there, there were a lot of times we played four against five because he just couldn’t breathe.”

Culver, a first-team All-Big 12 selection, played 15 minutes in the first half, scoring five points with five rebounds. He was doubled over trying to catch his breath at times in the first half of Thursday’s game and was seen laying on the floor on the sidelines when not in the game.

Culver did not immediately come out of WVU’s locker room at the start of the second half, emerging a few minutes later with a wrap around his left elbow. ESPN’s cameras caught Culver on the bench mouthing to a teammate that he received some sort of injection during the break.

He checked back into the game four minutes into the second half and scored six quick points to give WVU an eight-point lead with 13:35 left. The lead would not hold, however, as OSU eventually put together a 21-3 that gave them a 62-52 lead. Culver was also held scoreless for the rest of the game.

“Derek showed a lot of courage,” Huggins said. “He was having a hard time walking, much less running up and down the floor. He had the one flurry that kind of got us back in the game.”

Culver finished with 11 points and eight rebounds as WVU fought back from a 10-point second-half deficit to lose by only three. The effort he gave, even while ill, was not lost on his teammates.

“He obviously was not feeling himself,” sophomore Miles “Deuce” McBride said. “He’s a warrior, he’s one of our toughest guys on the team, he’s one of the leaders. We were thankful he was even able to step on the court today with some of the things he was going through. He’s going to keep battling through anything and battling with us, always.”

Huggins too, applauded the effort not only that Culver gave, but of the entire WVU team.

“I thought our guys gave a great effort,” Huggins said. “We had the one period of time where we just kind of let down a little bit…but other than that, I don’t know what else you could ask of them.”

Culver, a third-year starter for the Mountaineers, passed 1,000 career points in WVU’s regular-season finale last weekend and was named a first-team All-Big 12 selection for the first time in his career. He is averaging 14.8 points and 9.8 rebounds this season.

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