Culver finds place on Eastern men’s basketball team, working on comeback


The Daily Eastern News

JJ Bullock | The Daily Eastern News Rodney Culver (middle) watches one of the Eastern men’s basketball team’s coaches talk during a timeout huddle during Eastern’s 95-83 victory over Tennessee-Martin Thursday in Lantz Arena.

Dillan Schorfheide, Sports Editor

See if you can figure out which Eastern men’s basketball player this was written about.

He could do it all. Offensively aggressive, defensively daunting, he’d block your shot, take the rock, put the ball on the floor and hit you with a move so hypnotic you’d need a pep talk and a water break to pick your spirits back up. (He) was a bad boy. Period”

If you guessed Mack Smith, you would be wrong.

If you guessed Josiah Wallace, you would also be wrong.

This might help: The person who wrote this Jerry Kirven, and the article this statement appeared in was posted April 6, 2017 on WOUB’s website; WOUB is a public radio station in Ohio.

That state name is where the mystery takes a turn because no one on Eastern’s roster is from Ohio, but Rodney Culver Jr., a manager for Eastern’s team, is.

He also happens to be the highly-touted player Kirven wrote this statement about, when Culver decided he would transfer from Ohio University after playing a year there as a freshman.

If you were to see him at practice or on the bench with the team at an Eastern game, you would probably think he was about to be subbed in. Hell, the first time I saw him at a practice, I asked Eastern head coach Jay Spoonhour if he was a recruit visiting the team because he had on an Eastern basketball camp T-shirt.

His 6-foot-5-inch, slender frame and the way he can dribble a basketball between his legs and behind his back so seamlessly helps give a glimpse of what talent he possesses.

The story of Culver journey is like that of other players with a lot of potential, who have to sit out or, in the worst cases, completely stop playing the game they love.

Culver does not have to completely give up basketball, nor has he, but for now, he has to wait and see what his future is with the sport due to his health condition.

“At first, I was kind of numb, hard to believe,” Culver said about when he found out what his health condition was. “It took awhile to hit me.”

But Culver is still working toward a comeback in college basketball.

“I do, I do (think I’ll be able to play college basketball again) for sure,” Culver said. “The timetable, I hope it’s soon, I would like to finish my college basketball career the way I want to. Even if it’d be a more untraditional route, me getting healthy and having to try out for an overseas team somewhere, however maybe I don’t know.”

The last time Culver played was in Feb. 14, 2018, when he played for Vincennes University in Indiana. He did not leave Ohio University due to him being unhappy; in fact, in Kirven’s article Culver said the Ohio squad was the closest team he had been part of and that they were like his brothers.

“I thought they were trying to go one direction and I wanted to go another direction, so I was trying to find a system that better complimented me as a player,” he said. “I went to Vincennes to keep my recruiting up for a year, and when I was there, once coaches found out about my health condition, I kind of just lost all my offers.”

Culver said the doctors, when he initially found out about his health condition, told him not to do anything too intense or strenuous, which means he can do some light weightlifting and running (and play pickup games) to a certain extent before tiring out.

During the time from when Culver stopped playing at Vincennes, to the time he came to Eastern, he said he went back to living a normal life and learned some things.

“I worked in an elementary school,” he said. “(Working with) the kids, so kind of seeing the way I impacted their lives and the closer I got to some kids, see how they looked up to me or how I could actually change their lives, that kind of did something for me. It warmed my heart a little bit.”

With those lessons learned, though, Culver said with a smile that he could not imagine himself not finishing school and not playing basketball again; it was a little too different for him.

After that time away from basketball, Culver was able to find some comfort when he was able to become a manager for Eastern’s basketball team, which came to be because Culver played at Vincennes with former Eastern forward Rade Kukobat, who transferred away from Eastern in the fall.

“I was fortunate enough to get in touch with (assistant coach Rand Chappell),” Culver said. “I was fortunate enough for him to let me come and be part of the program, help out a little bit.”

“On our end, he just wanted to still be involved with the team, he just asked if he could come help out in any way,” Spoonhour said. “And that’s not an easy thing to do, especially when you know you can still play, but it does show the value of being on a team.”

Culver has some company with him at Eastern in Shawn Wilson, who is on the Panthers’ roster.

Wilson is a senior guard for Eastern, but he started his involvement with the team as a team manager, before joining the roster in the 2017-2018 season as a redshirt-sophomore.

Culver is still in a wait-and-see phase with his health condition to know for sure if and when he can return to a college roster, but he still works on his skills in preparation for that day.

Spoonhour and the Eastern roster know exactly what Culver brings to the court, although the first time Culver played with the Panthers at an open gym, it did not go too well.

“It was actually my first time like in a month playing, I had been doing stuff, keeping myself in shape, but I hadn’t actually played,” he said. “I played one game, and I didn’t look too hot. So I’m like, ‘Nah, I got to get back in the gym and work out, or everybody will think I’m a scrub.’ After that I played about two or three more times, and I was pretty good, I think most of the guys would give me my credit.”

Although Spoonhour has not seen him play that much, he still knows that getting to play 10-12 minutes a game as a freshman at Ohio does not just happen.

“The shame of it is he’s out here at practice and stuff, and he shoots it, he’s able to do lots of stuff that a Division I player can do,” Spoonhour said. 

Aside from Wilson and maybe some others, Spoonhour added that Culver is one of the most athletically gifted team managers he has ever had.

“I can pretty much say he is, well there might be some exceptions out there, he is the top guy in the country, in terms of talent and ability, he’s No. 1,” Spoonhour said with a smile.

As for Culver’s future playing, he is a junior academically, but he is not sure how much eligibility he has left to possibly rejoin a college roster. Nonetheless, do not be surprised if he is playing basketball again next season because he is confident, and the way he kept working on his craft definitely shows.

“I definitely know I’ll play again,” Culver said. “I’m going to go hard when I come back. Being out for two or three seasons, that took a toll on me, so as hard as I worked before, I’m going to go 10 times as hard now.” 

Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].