Category: Feature Stories


A heart-to-heart with Bob Huggins changed Juwan Staten’s outlook, career

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be previewing the Big 12.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

West Virginia’s Juwan Staten was one of the best players in the Big 12 last season, earning the honor of being named first-team all-Big 12 player over the likes of Joel Embiid and Georges Niang.

He was terrific, averaging 18.4 points, 5.8 assists and 5.6 rebound despite being listed as a 6-foot point guard. Those numbers were good enough to convince the Big 12 voters to overlook the fact that the Mountaineers were only able to manage a 17-16 record and a trip to the NIT. They were also impressive enough to make you wonder: Where the heck did this come from?

As a sophomore, in Staten’s first season playing with the Mountaineers, he averaged just 7.6 points and 3.3 assists on a team that bookended a 13-19 season with a 34-point beat-down at the hands of Gonzaga on national television and a seven-game losing streak. That came after Staten had redshirted the 2011-12 following a transfer from Dayton. Before Bob Huggins made the decision to bring Staten into the program, he first made a call to Steve Smith, Staten’s head coach at Oak Hill Academy (Virginia), a prep school known for churning out as much basketball talent as anyone in the country.

That includes Ty Lawson, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Jennings.

“Steve said that he was probably the best point guard that he’s ever had,” Huggins told this month, but through three seasons of college basketball, Staten looked anything but the part.

RELATED: 2014-2015 Big 12 Preview Rick Barnes turns Texas around

That all changed when Huggins had a sit-down with Staten following the 2012-13 season. The message he needed to get across? If you don’t want to do things my way, then pack your bags.

“Coach Huggs, he basically told me that he needed me to be an extension of him,” Staten told “Some things that we have to do within our program, with me being around and knowing how things go, he just wanted me to step up and be a leader. Put guys in their place when they’re doing the wrong thing and give them encouragement when they’re doing the right thing. Let them know what we’re supposed to be doing here. Be that voice that the guys hear away from practice.

“All the players don’t always agree with everything that’s going on, but as a leader, it’s your job to find out what the coach wants and how to get the players to do that.”

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Huggins dismissed that heart-to-heart in a way that only he can — “If you look at what our record was that year, I had that conversation with a lot of people,” he muttered, which is about the best way to describe the twangy, choppy way that Huggy Bear speaks. “Like, all of them. Every single one of them.” — but in talking with Staten, it’s easy to see that his message got through.

“My mentality changed,” Staten said. “I didn’t really have the season that I wanted to have as a sophomore, and that tested me. It put things in perspective. Time’s running out. You either have to start putting it down or think about something else that you want to do with your life. I got a little more focused and serious about the game. It changed my approach. I started taking more of a business approach to the game, falling in love with the process.”

And what is “the process”?

For Staten, it was about more than simply getting in the gym and doing the same drills and workouts that he’s done throughout his career and will continue to do as long as he’s playing the game.

Huggins has been coaching this game for a long time — as Staten put it, “since before I was born” — and he’s had quite a few stars work their way through his Cincinnati and West Virginia programs. There were two, however, that piqued the interest of Staten: Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan. He got Huggins to bring him game film from when those two were playing in college, spending hours pouring over those tapes.

He wasn’t just studying their moves, however. His goal wasn’t to learn how to cross a defender over like Van Exel could or hit the same kind of pull-up threes that Logan shot. The sets that Huggins runs these days aren’t that different from what he ran in the 90s, and what Staten wanted to learn was when, in the flow of the offense, those two were able to attack.

“I just wanted to see where they got their shots from, where they were able to create out of and what opportunities the offense was able to open up for them,” he said. “After that it was pretty clear where I would be able to get my shots.”

It sure was.

The problem, however, was that all those shots and all that production led the Mountaineers to a first round ouster from the NIT. As good as Staten is, as bright as his professional future may be, the sport just isn’t as fulfilling when you’re not winning consistently, and Staten says there are two things that he can do to change that next season that go beyond extending his three-point range.

It starts with “grasping the concept of being a point guard,” he said. “Knowing the time and score, learning my teammates a little better, what situations do we run what plays in to get an easy basket.” He also hopes to be able to lead his team better in close games. Staten traveled to both the Point Guard Skills Academy in New Jersey and LeBron James camp in Las Vegas this summer, and the way he tells it, he has a better feel for “knowing how to close games”.

But if West Virginia is truly going to be able to earn an at-large bid this season, it’s going to be about more than just Staten.

“We’ve got to guard and we’ve got to rebound,” Huggins said. “There are two constants in basketball: the ability to defend and the ability to rebound. We got away from really what was the staple of what we were all about.”

“Everybody’s wants to win,” Staten added. “When you’re not winning, it makes things a little more difficult because people start questioning what’s going on. They want ot sart putting their own ideas into things.

“It’s all about trusting the process.”

Staten knows better than anyone.

No longer supplementary pieces, two Texans will lead the way at Weber State

Randy Rahe
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source: AP
Weber State head coach Randy Rahe (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

In eight seasons at Weber State, head coach Randy Rahe has won 169 games (just over 21 wins per season) but prior to the 2013-14 campaign the Wildcats made just one NCAA tournament appearance under his watch. Thanks in large part to four seniors, led by Big Sky Player of the Year Davion Berry, that changed, with Weber State winning the Big Sky regular season and tournament titles. With their eyes on a repeat the Wildcats begin the season with just one senior, but their returnees have plenty of experience when it comes to contributing to a championship run.

The question for Weber State: can those supplementary options step forward into primary roles? The good news for Weber State is that the staff has done well on the recruiting trail in recent years, and players who hail from Texas make up nearly one-third of the roster entering the 2014-15 campaign. Looking for talent in areas they may not have hit hard in the past is something many programs do. In the case of Weber State, they’ve worked hard to build relationships within Texas and the efforts have paid off.

“We always want to be recruiting Utah first, going after the same guys who are going to BYU or Utah or Utah State. We don’t want to settle,” Rahe told in a phone interview last week. “We’ve had a harder time beating those schools for some guys, so we’ve gone to Arizona where we’ve had some success and northern California where we’ve gotten guys like Damian Lillard, Davion Berry and Frank Otis.

“But we decided that we needed to go to another spot, and I told my assistant Phil Beckner [who’s now with the Oklahoma City Thunder], ‘I want you to dive into Texas and see what you can do.’ He did a great job of establishing inroads and getting to know people. The first guy we got out of there was Joel Bolomboy, who we found at an early age. By the summer before his senior year he was 6-foot-9 and all of a sudden Clemson, Auburn and New Mexico (were interested). But he hung with us and showed a lot of loyalty, and since then we’ve kept going down there.”

Bolomboy is one of two Texans who were a part of the starting lineup last season, with sophomore guard Jeremy Senglin being the other. Bolomboy contributed 8.7 points and a Big Sky-best 11.0 rebounds per game as a sophomore, with Senglin accounting for 10.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists at the off-guard position. Both were recognized by Big Sky coaches for their efforts at the end of the season, as Bolomboy was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and Senglin winning Big Sky Freshman of the Year honors.

Due to the departures responsibilities will change for both, especially for Senglin as he’ll be asked to move into the role of primary ball-handler.

RELATED:’s Big Sky Conference Preview

“He didn’t have to be the main guy as a true freshman. He could fit in, and he filled that role really well,” Rahe said of Senglin. “This year obviously his level of responsibility in our program has to go up. From a scoring standpoint we’re probably going to need a bit more from him, and we’re going to need more from a leadership standpoint. I think he can be a very good point guard, and everything has to kick up another notch for him. Now he’s got more responsibility, and he’s going to have to mix in the scoring and getting his teammates involved.”

The process of moving into the role of primary ball-handler can be a difficult one, because there’s a lot more that goes into the process than simply thinking that one has to pass the ball more. The understanding of when to get your teammates the ball and where they should get the ball is key, as is the need to understand when it’s time to pursue your own scoring opportunities and when it’s time to run something to get someone else a shot. Senglin gained experience in both perimeter roles during his high school years, including a stint alongside Emmanuel Mudiay with the Texas Select program, and those are experiences Weber State expects to serve Senglin well as he adjust to a different role.

In regards to Bolomboy, his ability as both a rebounder and defender has been present since he arrived on campus, as he tallied 7.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as a freshman in 2012-13 despite not starting a single game. The key for Bolomboy this offseason was to expand his game, and despite getting just a week and a half with Ukraine’s national team before suffering a bone bruise in his knee he was able to work on becoming a more consistent offensive player.

source: AP
Weber State’s Joel Bolomboy (AP Photo)

Last season, 45.3% of Bolomboy’s field goal attempts were two-point jumpers, according to, and he made just 28.6% of those shots. The short amount of time Bolomboy worked under Ukraine head coach Mike Fratello helped the junior add some polish to his offensive skill set, and according to Rahe, the improvement has been noticeable since his leading rebounder returned to Ogden.

“He was playing with older guys,” Rahe said when asked how the summer experience helped Bolomboy. “He was being coached by coach Fratello, who is a great coach and knows what he’s doing. For us, it was great because now he hears another voice. It was good for him to hear some of the same things we’ve been telling him but from someone else, which kind of reinforces what we’ve been trying to get him to do.”

Bolomboy isn’t going to be a player who hoists up 20 shots a night, and that’s fine. Weber State doesn’t need him to be that kind of player. But they did need him to use this offseason to improve his offensive skill set, because in addition to Berry the Wildcats lost their second-leading scorer in Kyle Tresnak (11.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and a key contributor in Jordan Richardson (7.1, 2.3, 2.5 apg). With those losses, not to mention fellow senior Byron Fulton and junior Royce Williams, Bolomboy’s progression from supplementary offensive piece to primary option is one of the biggest storylines for Weber State as they look to repeat as Big Sky champions. What’s helped matters is the fact that Bolomboy has worked incredibly hard on his game.

“Joel is an extremely hard worker,” Rahe noted. “He wants to be as good as he can possibly be. When we first got Joel as a freshman, he was always very athletic and rebounded at a high level because of his athleticism, but he needed a lot of skill work. His ball-handling, his passing, his shooting, which then (if improved) would help him get a better feel for the game and how the game was played. His skill level and feel for the game as a freshman was not very good, so those were the two areas that we really tried to hit hard.

MORE: All of’s conference previews can be found here

“Just improving his overall skill level and ball-handling; the better you can handle the ball, the better you feel about the game and you see the game better,” Rahe continued. “He’s really come a long way. He’s starting to feel the game better and his skill level has gotten very good for a 6-9, 235-pound player. He can now shoot the ball from three and we’re allowing him to do that, and he can now make plays off the bounce as well.

“He’s really come a long way in two years, and a lot of it has to do with his overall work ethic and how good he wants to be.”

Bolomboy and Senglin are the two players most will focus on when assessing the Wildcats’ chances of retaining possession of the Big Sky title due to the roles they filled a season ago. But it’ll take a lot more than just two players to accomplish that goal, with players such as sophomores Richaud Gittens and Kyndahl Hill also in spots where they’ll be able to contribute more. A team that was led by five seniors a season ago will have just one in 2014-15. But even with the relative lack of experience the standards within the program don’t change, with Rahe having three areas that he focuses on every season.

“The things I always worry about before every season are: 1. How tough are we?” Rahe said. “Are we going to be tough enough mentally? Physically? That’s something we try to hang our hat on up here. 2. How hard we’re going to play; and 3. how together we’re going to be. Those three areas are things that we try to keep consistent every year. It’s those intangibles that come through for us, and I believe that we have enough talent to be competitive.”

Jeronne Maymon is ready to get back to the grind at Tennessee

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source: AP
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This will be an interesting season for Jeronne Maymon. NCAA rule changes have made defense something of a dirty word this year, and the Tennessee big man happens to play for Cuonzo Martin. That presents a bit of a dilemma.

“It’s definitely very hard to please him on defense,” Maymon told NBCSports via phone. “He really doesn’t care too much about offense. He says some nights your shots will be falling and some nights they won’t, so defense is your consistency every night.”

Maymon is jonesing for consistency this season. He sat out 2012-13 to rehab a nagging knee injury, and he logged very few minutes early in his career as he transferred from Marquette to Tennessee. The Vols were also in turmoil, making the transition from charismatic Bruce Pearl – the coach who coaxed Maymon to Knoxville in the first place – to the more taciturn Martin.

Maymon tries to see the positives in the meandering road he took to this final collegiate season.

“I don’t have as much on-court experience as other seniors, but I’ll tell you I gained a lot of knowledge just being on the bench as far as slowing the game down and getting the mental part,” he said. “Most fifth-year seniors get that mental capacity for processing the game down, but I really grew quite a bit from sitting on the sidelines just watching the game, just picking my coaches’ brains and talking to my players. I think that really helped me.”

A healthy Maymon is the missing piece that makes Tennessee a legitimate contender for the SEC crown, which will be hotly contested by past national title winners Kentucky and Florida as well this season. The strategic and tactical advantages of having Maymon back in the frontcourt alongside last season’s All-SEC forward Jarnell Stokes should have Vols fans salivating.

“He and Jarnell are two of the better rebounders in college basketball, two of the most physical guys,” Cuonzo Martin told NBCSports by phone. “You can play those two guys as your four and your five and they feed off of each other. But he’s also a guy with tremendous leadership skills. Jarnell missed him most last season, just having another guy who can control the glass on the back side and draw some of the double-teams. So now Jarnelle becomes a better player with Jeronne back, because he learned how to play without him.”

Martin isn’t taking any chances, either. He has his dominant frontcourt tandem work over their understudies whenever possible. “We try to separate those guys as much in practice as we can, get them going against other guys so those guys can get the experience of how physical the game is played,” Martin said.

The combination of Stokes and Maymon landed at No. 6 on our preseason list of the game’s top backcourts, but the ranking is a bit precarious. If injuries strike, the bench can be a bit thin on big men. Junior college transfer Rawane Ndaiye, nicknamed “Pops”, will see a fair amount of time off the bench. Ndaiye has earned the confidence of his teammates the hard way.

“In practice it’s a lot more chaotic than in games, because coach doesn’t call any fouls; he lets you play. So Pops has shown a lot of poise,” Maymon said. “Him banging up against me and Jarnell has really shown how much he can withstand, and he can play ball.”

Tennessee’s strength extends beyond the frontcourt as well this season; an absolute must in a league featuring the Harrisons, Scottie Wilbekin and hot-shooting Marshall Henderson, amongst other perimeter terrors. Martin will look to Antonio Barton, who traversed the state as a transfer from Memphis to UT, to take some pressure off the inside players.

“You’re talking about a guy who can make shots and push the basketball,” Martin said. “He’s been in big games before and made big shots; he’s a career 40% three-point shooter. Those things help.”

Toss Barton in the mix with 6-foot-6 senior Jordan McRae, who averaged 15.7 points per game last season, and talented freshman Darius Thompson, and you’ll see a pattern emerging. Grit and brawn on the inside, deadly accuracy on the perimeter. It’s the classic basketball yin-yang. If the Vols get lucky and keep everyone out of the trainer’s room, this could be a special season in Knoxville.

It’ll be special for Jeronne Maymon no matter what. He knows this is his last go-round, and he can’t wait to get on the floor in front of a regular-season crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena.

“The first game in front of our fans, being able to step back and hear all that noise and see that Tennessee orange, that’s when I’ll feel like I’m back,” Maymon said. “I’ll probably be very nervous, probably miss a couple of layups maybe turn the ball over once or twice, but I’m pretty sure I can get my feet wet and get back.”

The undercurrent of bold-faced honesty in the Tennessee program these days is refreshing. Maymon can acknowledge his rust, his fear and his potential mistakes because his coach sets a clear standard: you can screw up and be forgiven as long as you own it and learn from it.

source: AP
Cuonzo Martin cares about the grind. It’s as important to his team as it is to his morning coffee.

“The idea is to be perfect, but we always fall short of that,” Maymon said. “We might make some mistakes, but we know we’ll get that corrected as the year goes on. (Coach Martin) sets a standard. He doesn’t bend or waver on anything; once he puts his foot down, it’s set. That’s what keeps us players on balance. I really appreciate his consistency.”

Consistency is what this season will boil down to for the Vols. They start the season on the road against an always-dangerous Xavier team, and they’ll travel to face last year’s Final Four darling Wichita State as well. In the SEC, Maymon and company will battle big men like LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant III and Florida’s own terrible tandem of Will Yeguete and Patric Young. As if that weren’t bad enough, they have assigned dates with the uber-young and uber-talented Kentucky Wildcats to prepare for.

Maymon knows what’s coming, but he refuses to get caught up in the preps-to-pros hype.

“You can’t approach every game with the same mindset. You’ve got to kind of pick your poison with some teams, and some teams are better at one aspect of the game than others. I’m probably just more focused in on the night-in, night-out grind of each game.”

The grind: it’s not glamorous, but it gets the job done.