Staten sets example for rebuilt Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN — For all of the newcomers injected into West Virginia’s basketball program over the last few months, it’s an old hand that Bob Huggins perhaps appreciates the most.
As Huggins does what he can while rehabbing after hip replacement surgery and his assistants bear much of the weight of running summer workouts, it is Juwan Staten who might be playing the most important role.
“He’s been as good as virtually anybody I’ve had in the past in terms of trying to learn what we want done and be able to help his teammates figure out the same kind of thing,’’ Huggins said Tuesday. “He’s certainly set an example with his work ethic.’’
That’s nothing new, of course. After a somewhat rocky sophomore season, Staten put his nose to the grindstone a year ago and that, in great part, led to the improvement that turned him into an All-Big 12 point guard.
His work ethic this summer, though, figures to pay dividends not just for Staten but for a roster now dominated by newcomers. After being forced to rebuild his team after the departure of Eron Harris, Terry Henderson and Remi Dibo, Huggins now has five newcomers and two others who have never played a minute as Mountaineers. That’s more than half the 13-man roster.
If all of them watch Staten and try to emulate his work habits, Huggins figures his team will be a step ahead of the game.
“He lives in the gym and he doesn’t just go in the gym and shoot balls,’’ Huggins said of Staten, who toyed with the idea of turning pro after the season but elected to remain for his senior season. “He’s in there working at it. And I think that’s kind of permeating, to a degree, through our team.’’
It’s a team that certainly has potential, but with so many newcomers it’s difficult to gauge just how successful the Mountaineers might be after back-to-back seasons of missing the NCAA tournament after doing so pretty much regularly the previous decade. Even Huggins isn’t quite ready to predict how his new players will fare except to say that they all can potentially fill needed roles.
“I think all of them bring something different,’’ Huggins said. “I think they’re all going to make an impact.
“Obviously we needed perimeter shooting and we recruited guys we think are going to be very capable perimeter shooters. And we needed to increase out athleticism and I think we’ve certainly done that, as well.’’
The newcomers are a varied bunch. They include five guards — incoming freshmen Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter and junior college transfers Tarik Phillip, Jaysean Paige and the recently added Billydee Williams — but the list also includes inside players Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon. The latter two were in school last year but ineligible.
They join a cast of holdovers that, in addition to Staten, includes guard Gary Browne and forwards Devin Williams, Brandon Watkins, Kevin Noreen and Nathan Adrian. Staten, Noreen and Browne are seniors, while the others all have at least two years of eligibility remaining.
If there is mystery surrounding the newcomers, there might be as much in connection with some of the holdovers. Of that group, perhaps Devin Williams showed the most potential as a freshman. The big-bodied, 6-foot-8 forward had eight double-doubles last season and averaged 8.4 points and 7.2 rebounds, but also had nights when he just disappeared. In three games against mammoth-sized Texas, for example, Williams had a total of six points and six rebounds in 63 minutes.
“If Devin didn’t lead the league in double-doubles then he was very close,’’ Huggins said. “He just needs to be more consistent. I think Devin is a guy who conceivably could average a double-double. He needs to be able to do that night in and night out.’’
Much of that, Huggins believes, is just a matter of effort. Williams has proven several times that he can play at a high level, but not that he can always play at that level.
But he’s working at it, perhaps with Staten as his example.
“Devin’s a good guy. Devin is a guy who has consistently been in the gym,’’ Huggins said. “He’s working on being able to make the 15-, 17-footer. He’s a 6-foot-8 guy who can bounce it into the lane and we’re working with him to make sure he makes better decisions when he does bounce it in the lane.
“I think he can become a lot more versatile than just a power forward who can rebound the ball.’’
In fact, Huggins thinks he might have a full cast of players who can, as he says, bounce it in the lane — be able to attack defenders while moving with the ball and handling it well. Holton and Macon, he hopes, fit that mold.
“That puts a little pressure on the defense,’’ Huggins said. “But at the same time, you’ve got to be able to make some perimeter shots and open things up for people to be able to bounce it. I think we can do that. I’m happy with the people we were able to get at a late date like we did.’’
That includes Staten. Never known as a great shooter, he shot 48.2 percent from the floor last season, but probably half of his shots were drives to the basket. He attempted only 14 3-pointers and made five.
Huggins said that’s one of the things his point guard has to work on this summer, but then backtracked just a bit.
“He actually shot it OK. He just didn’t shoot it enough,’’ Huggins said. “I think he needs to be a little more selfish maybe in that regard.’’
BRIEFLY: Huggins said his rehab from surgery was going well, but he’s not without his issues. “I’m sore, but I think I’m doing well,’’ Huggins said. “The recovery is going fine. It’s just sore.’’ ... On incoming junior college guard Billydee Williams and whether any of his players make the connection to the actor of the same (but differently spelled) name: “None of our guys remember [the actor],’’ Huggins said. “Hopefully he’s good enough that he’s going to make people remember him.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.