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Culver eager for new start



Published: Sat, April 9, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Rayen graduate's latest stop starts tonight in the first game.

By JOE SCALZO

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

BOARDMAN -- OK, it's time to take a trip. For the next few sentences, you're going to get a small taste of Lawrence Culver's life over the past 13 years.

Let's start with high school. In his last two years at The Rayen School, he won two City Series titles (good) and was a second-team City Series selection (pretty good) before starting his college career at the University of Akron (very good).

After four years at Akron (OK) and a coaching change (not-so-OK), Culver transferred to Mansfield (Pa.) University (not quite as good), where he helped the team go from last place in the conference to first in one year (very, very good).

From there, he played in Iceland (good) and Montevideo, Uruguay (nowhere near as good) before working at a local private prison for two years (OK) and the Youngstown Police Department for one year (OK).

He then decided to get back in shape (good), spent the last few months as Maurice Clarett's personal trainer (good) and, finally, latched on with the area's newest pro basketball team, the Mahoning Valley Wildcats (time will tell).

Got all that?

Wants to play again

Culver, a 6-foot-8-inch, 240-pound forward, will most likely start the season as a reserve on a roster that could have as many as 18 players, most of them with local ties.

The Wildcats' season begins tonight against the Akron Lightning. Culver, who joined the team last week, heard about the league when Wildcats coach/general manager Rob Spon approached him.

"I was playing in a league at the South Fieldhouse and Rob spoke to me there and told me to try out for the team," Culver said. "So I said, 'Why not? I'll play.' "

Culver, 31, was already thinking about trying to play again overseas and figured the International Basketball League might be a good springboard to that goal.

"It's been different practicing with 20-some guys, but it's still fun," Culver said. "Just like it's always been."

Enjoyed Iceland

Culver played sparingly in Wednesday's exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Steelers -- he didn't get in until the second quarter -- but he's pretty excited about the opportunity.

"The ideal situation would be for us to go ahead and win this thing, get the community involved and see where it goes from there," said Culver, a 1992 graduate of Rayen. "Maybe I'll get an opportunity to advance to another level and get back overseas."

Culver enjoyed his year in Iceland, where he averaged 31 points and 15 rebounds per game for a club team.

"Iceland is beautiful," he said. "Everyone thinks it's real cold, but their weather is comparable to ours. It just doesn't get real hot. And in the winter, it's dark the whole time and in the summer, it's light the whole time. So that was different.

"Socially, the people over there are very warm. It was lovely. I had no complaints about it at all."

Language barrier

Uruguay, where he averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, was a different story.

"It was different because of the language barrier," Culver said. "In Iceland, everyone spoke English, but I needed a translator in Uruguay. Sometimes I'd even have the translator with me at the mall."

Culver had taken Spanish in high school and college, but quickly learned it wasn't enough.

"I was like, 'Whoa, I don't know what I thought I knew,' " he said, laughing.

He returned home and, after bouncing around different jobs, he hooked up with Clarett, whom he met a few years ago when the Warren Harding running back worked out at the Youngstown YMCA.

Clarett needed a trainer to get ready for this month's draft and hired Culver. Culver worked with Clarett at last week's private workout in Warren and has spent the last few months staring at the inside of gym walls.

"It's been real fun," Culver said. "We've been working out a lot, but that's good. I've enjoyed every minute of it."

If Culver can say that about the Wildcats in two months, he'll be a happy man. Spon compared him to NBA players Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman -- guys who are willing to bang inside and do the dirty work.

"You need guys like that," Spon said.

The league is still an experiment, however, and Culver, like the rest of the players, isn't sure what to expect.

But that doesn't mean he's not excited.

"I'm looking forward to playing," he said. "Hopefully, things work out."

scalzo@vindy.com




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