After missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, the West Virginia program endured a tumultuous spring where Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, the Mountaineers’ second and third leading scorers, both decided to transfer.
Despite the losses of two talented guards, especially Eron Harris, who was fourth in the Big 12 in scoring, the Mountaineers return their top player from a season ago: Juwan Staten. His return is crucial for Mountaineers, who enter the 2014-2015 season with a new cast of characters.
For now, Staten can lead by example, and Huggins bragged that Staten “certainly sets an example with his work ethic.” Staten’s timeline on Twitter features regular reminders that he’s been running in the woods or working out in the gym, messages that are important because the work does happen and because his peers can see that he’s out there doing his part.
“He lives in the gym,” Huggins said. “He doesn’t just go in the gym and shoot balls. He’s in there working at it. That, I think, has kind of permeated to a degree throughout our team.”
Staten was second in the Big 12 in scoring and was tied for the lead in assists with 18.1 points and 5.8 assists per game. He was also second on the team in rebounding. The 6-foot-1 guard will be surrounded by a mostly new-look back court made up of returnee Gary Browne, JuCo commits Billydee Williams, Tarik Phillip and Jaysean Paige, as well as incoming freshmen Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, both three-star recruits.
The West Virginia frontline, headlined by Devin Williams, will be bolstered by the additions of Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon, a top-60 recruit in 2013. Both forwards will be eligible this season.
Last season, the Mountaineers finished seventh in the Big 12 standings, ahead of Oklahoma State, which received one of the conference’s seven tournament berths. For a time, West Virginia was sitting on the bubble, making up for a weak non-conference schedule with wins over Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Iowa State. But six losses in nine games down the stretch dashed the Mountaineers’ hopes of dancing in March.
Harris and Henderson transferring hurts West Virginia, but a first-team Big 12 selection surrounded by talent, albeit young and/or inexperienced, gives Huggins something to work with.
“I think they’ll get better and better as the thing goes on,” Huggins told Casazza. “I think we have to have the same kind of selfless attitude that I think the really good teams have. I don’t have any indication at this point in time that that’s not going to happen.”