Rodney Culver of the Pickerington High School Central boys basketball team never has thought of himself as living in anonymity.
But with opponents' attention usually directed toward Connor Kern and Jae'Sean Tate, seniors who have signed with Arkansas State and Ohio State, respectively, Culver has done more than pick up the slack when needed.
Culver, a 6-foot-4, 175-pound junior, was averaging 12.2 points and six rebounds through 13 games for the Tigers, who were 10-3 overall before playing Westerville South on Jan. 21 and are 7-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division.
"I hoped it'd be a big year for me as far as helping the team out," Culver said.
"Last year, this team was pretty good and pretty deep and I was kind of able to be more of a role player. This year, we still have a good team but we don't have as much depth, so I have to step it up."
A 22-point, 12-rebound performance in a 92-68 win at Marion-Franklin on Dec. 30 helped turn heads. Culver had a career-high 25 points to go with six rebounds in a 98-80 win at Groveport on Jan. 14, and added 22 points and six rebounds in a 97-89 win at Cleveland Benedictine on Jan. 18.
"He's going to be the next one up here," said Tate, who was averaging 21.6 points and 11 rebounds through 13 games.
"He's a long, lanky body. He's grown so much from last year and expanded his game."
Kern was averaging 16.9 points, five assists and four rebounds through 13 games.
Culver alternated between the freshman and junior varsity teams his freshman year then dressed with the varsity during its run to the Division I state championship.
He was the Tigers' sixth man as a sophomore, when Central went 19-8 and lost to Gahanna 53-50 in a regional semifinal.
"I coached him his freshman year and he scored a lot for me then," said interim coach Eric Krueger, who is leading the team while coach Jerry Francis is on an indefinite leave of absence for health-related issues.
"Last year, he went through some ups and downs learning how to compete at the varsity level, and this year he's taken off. He's getting there. He has to keep working, but he's having a great year and he'll get better."
While his scoring and rebounding numbers have been impressive, Culver said his favorite part of the game is defense.
"I feel comfortable doing everything but if I had to pick one thing, I'd probably say defending the other team's best player. I love the challenge," he said.
"I'm always still learning. I think I can help rebounding more and getting more deflections on the defensive end, more steals."
Central is tied with Newark for the league lead at 7-1. Newark won the teams' first meeting, 62-58 on Jan. 3, and the rematch will take place Feb. 4 at Newark.
Gahanna is a game behind at 6-2, followed by Grove City at 5-3.
According to Culver, he has received interest from Arkansas State, Bowling Green, Dayton and Wright State.
"I'd probably be a shooting guard or small forward in college, too," said Culver, who played for the Ohio Hoopsters in AAU competition last summer. "That's my dream, to play Division I. But I have a long way to go. I can do more."
Tigers, Panthers prepare for rematch
Central and Pickerington North's second meeting of the season will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, as the first half of a boys-girls doubleheader.
Kern's 20 points carried the Tigers in the first game, a 75-44 Central win Dec. 17. Tate added 15 points and D.J. Tyree 10.
Mykus Hall's eight points led North.
The Panthers were 2-11 overall before playing Hilliard Davidson on Jan. 21 and are 1-7 in the OCC-Ohio.
The league win came against Lancaster, which the Panthers defeated 53-36 on Dec. 13 and will visit on Friday, Jan. 24.
North entered the week with six consecutive losses since defeating Thornville Sheridan 49-40 on Dec. 30.