It really is a new year for West Virginia University basketball.
A new year, a better year … maybe even a very, very surprising year.
First of all, forget that 13-19 record from last season. Forget the missed shots, the failed rebounds, the turnovers. Forget the frustration on Bob Huggins’ face nearly every time he watched his team play.
If the opening game of the 2013-14 season is any indication, this is going to be a fun team, a hard-knocking team, a fast-moving team … a winning team.
Right from the start of what was a 77-62 opening victory over Mount St. Mary’s before 8,336 fans it was obvious that things were going to be different.
The first shot of the year was a jump shot by Juwan Staten.
A year ago, you would have had to beg Staten to take an open jumper.
This year he was the leading scorer for the Mountaineers with 22 points, hitting 7 of 10 shots, canning jumpers, adding a breakaway dunk, grabbing five rebounds, throwing in six assists to a single turnover and adding two steals.
Moments later Eron Harris hit the year’s first 3. He would finish with 19 points, with half of WVU’s six 3s, three assists, four rebounds and two steals.
After Harris’ first 3, Morgantown High’s Nathan Adrian hit his first collegiate 3. He would finish making all 3 of the 3s he took and all four of the shots he took as he scored 11 points despite injuring an ankle.
By the time WVU had six baskets, six different players had scored them.
It is going to be that kind of team.
Even Brandon Watkins, who no one expected a whole lot from right away, went 5-for-7 shooting and finished with 10 points and four rebounds.
A year ago, you might recall, Huggins couldn’t find anything good to say about his team.
The only time he smiled was at the end of press conferences.
Now, he sounds like John Wooden talking about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bill Walton.
And his players are the same. They are having fun again.
Take Staten on making shots.
“It was a matter of changing my will, my perspective,” he explained. “We have younger guys, inexperienced guys. It is forcing me to step up.”
It isn’t something he is just realizing.
“He talked to me about being a leader,” Huggins said. “I explained that you have to lead by example. You have to be the hardest worker. You have to know what I want done. You have to come in early and leave late.”
And that is what Staten did.
And Harris. And Terry Henderson, who is out with a shin problem but will only add yet another dimension upon his return.
WVU did everything it wanted to do except rebound, being outrebounded by Mount St. Mary’s 30-28.
“I’d like to have rebounding and shooting,” Huggins said. “I don’t know why we can’t have both. It was a total team effort. Everyone contributed. As a staff and personally, we didn’t do a good job. We have so much to get in.”
The WVU Mountaineers took an early lead and clung to it, widening it before halftime to nine points, then built on it in the second half. They never trailed and never were tied.
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It really is a new year for West Virginia University basketball.
- Bob Herzel
HERTZEL COLUMN: Big 12 provides plenty of optimism
This past week the Big 12 held its annual media gathering in Dallas and served up a heaping portion of optimism for the 2014 season that is now upon us, West Virginia University opening its preseason practices on Thursday.
This is a time of year when no one has lost a game, not even Charlie Weis at Kansas, and it’s a time of year when opinions are more plentiful than tattoos in an NFL locker room.
HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU needs White to follow in former receivers’ footsteps
A year ago Clint Trickett took a lot of grief as the once potent West Virginia offense came unraveled, but there is more that than meets the eye.
The criticism was not unfounded, of course, although behind each incomplete pass there was the pain Trickett was suffering through to throw it, his rotator cuff in need of surgery.
HERTZEL COLUMN: O’Toole joins long list of eccentric WVU kickers, punters
The star of the Big 12’s annual football media day wasn’t a star at all.
He intrigued the media far more than Bob Stoops, the coach of preseason favorite Oklahoma, and more than Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, the preseason player of the year.
WVU, N.C. State to meet in football
Following a trend of creating non-conference games against regional opponents, West Virginia University has reached agreement with North Carolina State to play a home-and-home football series in 2018 and 2019.
The Mountaineers are scheduled to play N.C. State in Raleigh on Sept. 15, 2018, and then play host to the Wolfpack on Sept. 14, 2019.
HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Cheating pays’ remark should draw attention
When Bob Bowlsby, the outspoken commissioner of the Big 12, presented his opening-day picture of the future of college sports in Dallas for the annual media day gathering, his bleak comments were not unexpected.
Holgorsen’s program hits turning point
You can almost sense, as you watch West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen sit before the gathered Big 12 media contingent answering questions in the Omni Hotel in Arlington, Texas, that he senses his program has reached a turning point.
Trickett’s play key factor for Mountaineers’ success
In the end, it comes down to the quarterback.
Always has with Dana Holgorsen, always will.
Quarterback is the offense with the West Virginia University coach. When he does well, the team wins – almost always.
When he does poorly, the team doesn’t stand much of a chance.
Saban, family happy at Alabama
Alabama football coach Nick Saban, whose team opens the season against West Virginia in Atlanta on Aug. 30, denied receiving or turning down this offseason an offer of $100 million to coach Texas, indicating he planned to finish his career as coach of the Crimson Tide.
HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Quarterback child prodigy’ comes to WVU amidst very high expectations
Has West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen finally put the arrow he needs in his quiver with the commitment received Wednesday from high school quarterback David Sills, who is a rather extraordinary story and may also just be a rather extraordinary quarterback?
WVU kicker Molinari ‘All-American boy’
West Virginia kicker Mike Molinari may not be an All-American but he is an All-American boy.
He was honored for that on Wednesday when the Allstate Insurance Company and the American Football Coaches Association announced the West Virginia redshirt senior kicker/punter Michael Molinari is a nominee for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
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- HERTZEL COLUMN: Big 12 provides plenty of optimism