WVU freshmen making an impact
MORGANTOWN - For some recipes, cooks brown and stir.
For West Virginia's basketball team, it's been the Browns that have stirred.
OK, so it's Aaron Brown and his roommate, Gary Browne, spelled with an "e."
Neither freshman starts for the Mountaineers. But perhaps both should, especially after Saturday's 77-66 WVU victory over Miami, Fla., before 12,257 at the Coliseum.
At point guard, prized recruit Jabarie Hinds got his eighth start in eight games, but scored no points and had one assist in 19 minutes. Browne, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound recruit from Cupey, Puerto Rico, came in and scored nine first-half points and had six assists and three turnovers in 28 minutes of play. He helped keep WVU in the game early when the hosts were struggling to a 37-35 halftime disadvantage.
Hinds will undoubtedly keep his starting job because he still averages 8.9 points and has 30 assists with 19 turnovers and 17 steals. But Browne played better on Saturday and, for the season, he's close behind Hinds, averaging 6.3 points with 30 assists, 21 turnovers and 10 steals.
"Honestly," said WVU coach Bob Huggins, "[Browne] made some shots in the first half that I'm sure surprised [Miami] because it surprised me."
Brown, a 6-5, 220-pound product of Darby, Pa., had seven points and a couple of rebounds. He kept a string of nine-straight WVU made shots going in the second half with a trey from the right corner after a Mountaineer defensive takeaway. He was following up a nice performance against Kansas State in which he had 10 points. He's now averaging 5.8 points and 2.6 rebounds. In comparison, starting small forward Keaton Miles, also a freshman, is averaging .8 points and 1.9 rebounds.
"A.B.'s just made some shots," Huggins said. "He's made some big shots, and he's made big shots under pressure for us. And I think he continues to get better defensively. He made a couple of post feeds, which he's not made before."
"I'm feeling comfortable," Brown said. "Coach has me coming off the bench and I guess that's my role now. I just want to be a spark off the bench and produce."
Keep in mind the pair are complementary players to the Mountaineers' Big Three of Kevin Jones, now averaging 20.1 points, Truck Bryant, now averaging 17, and Deniz Kilicli, now averaging 12.1 points. The improvement of the latter two has been marked.
But Huggins needs some of his freshmen to step up and Brown and Browne are doing so, along with Hinds.
"That's my roommate, as a matter of fact," Browne said of Brown. "He's playing really, really good. He's playing with a lot of confidence. He's making shots, big shots. And he's playing hard on defense."
The point guard said he and the small forward go back to the room and talk about the games. One might imagine they also talk about starting. Both, though, are saying all the right things.
"Oh yeah," Browne said about possibly starting. "I'm ready for everything, but I'll do whatever Coach asks me to do. If he wants to put me in for five seconds, I'll do it. We are a team, a family. Nobody thinks, 'Oh, I should start.' We do whatever we need to do to help the team."
The guard said he needs to stay more in control.
"I've made some stupid mistakes," he said. "I've made turnovers that made no sense."
He feels improvement now, though, especially in transition.
Brown, the small forward, seems to have the better shot at starting.
"I mean, I'm fighting," he said. "But ultimately this is a coach's decision. I want to do what's best for the team. I guess if this is best for the team, I'm with it."
One reporter asked if it helps to survey the game from the bench before entering.
"I mean it does, but you know I'm a competitor just like everyone else," Brown replied. "Everyone wants to have that spot. I'm a competitor, but if the coach wants me to come off the bench, I'm doing it."
Brown said he's feeling more and more comfortable with WVU's offense. But he admits the college game is a tough gig.
"There are so many principles now," he said. "Rules you have to know. Things you have to see. In high school you really don't have to see that kind of stuff. But this is the next level. Everything is much faster and better - so you have to learn it."
Of WVU's win, Brown pointed to the defensive side.
"We just had to turn our defense up," he said. "We kind of walked through the first half. We just came off a big win [over Kansas State]. We knew [Miami] would be jacked up, but we didn't match their intensity in the first half. I think it was more effort on our part."
Whether either end up starting is a choice Huggins has to make. But he seems to like what he sees.
"They are good kids," said the coach. "They don't work as hard as they think they are some days, but they are getting there. Gary has got to play hard. I told Gary that he has to go like Joe Mazzulla. When Joe didn't play hard, he wasn't very good. He finally learned he had to play hard all the time and he was a pretty good player."
The improvement of the pair, however, has helped the Mountaineers to a 6-2 record, back-to-back nice victories and a fan base that is now stirring.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.