By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
After spending much of this past week watching athletes be tested at the NFL Draft Combine, measuring their agility, their leaping ability and, perhaps most important, their speed, a thought crept into an empty cranium in the midst of West Virginia University’s 81-59 victory over TCU.
It was created at a moment when the Mountaineers’ Eron Harris broke loose down court on a fast break, streaking by a defender and getting to the hoop, where he could make the basket and draw a foul.
“Dang, he’s fast,” was the thought of the moment.
It wasn’t really a whole lot later in the game when Harris was off and running again, once more leaving defenders flatfooted as he got to the basket.
“Wonder how fast he is,” was the next thought, followed by the realization that you never, ever hear any talk about speed in the sport of basketball.
Quickness, yes. Agility, yes. Leaping ability, yes.
So you went to Harris following the game to ask him about just that.
He thought about it for a moment, then answered:
“That’s probably a good question to ask Juwan. He’s probably the fastest guy in this league. He can go past everybody on the fast break. I’m not going to go past everybody. I feel if I’m going in straight line I can beat you.”
Once again, as always in basketball, Harris was confusing quickness with speed.
He was right in what he was saying about Staten. Anyone who has watched him perform his magic on a defender understands that one-on-one becomes one-on-none quickly, for he twitches one way and goes the other faster than anyone most of us have seen on the Coliseum court.
He can fake you out of your … well, let’s just say he can fake you out of your sneakers.
How fast is he?
“I’ve never been timed,” he revealed.
Think about that for a moment. How much television time was devoted to watching NFL prospects race against the clock, knowing that hundredths of a second over 40 yards could affect their draft position, or even if they would be drafted at all.
But here was a quality college player from the top level, a player dreaming NBA dreams, and no one has ever bothered to time him.
“Now that you mention it, I might get someone to time me for something,” he said.
For something? Twenty yards, 40 yards, how long is a basketball court, anyway … and should they time you dribbling a ball or just flat out?
What part does speed play in the game?
“I think speed is good, depending on your position. If you a big man and have speed, it makes you elite. At guard, most of them have speed,” said Staten.
In the final analysis, though, Staten understands that speed isn’t as important in basketball as it is in football.
“I guess it’s not speed. It’s quickness and change of direction,” he said. “I’m sure there are guards out there who are faster than me or just as fast. I’m not sure, but I predicate my game on changing direction and changing my speed.
“It’s not how fast you can go. It’s changing your speed, changing your direction, stopping on dime and then how fast you can speed up again.”
“You need to be able to stay in front of somebody,” Harris said. “If I’m faster than you, I’m going to make it there, especially with the foul rules they have now.”
Ah, the rules they have now, rules where you can’t hand guard, which was one way of slowing down someone who was a step faster than you, a way of giving the defender a little bit of an edge. After all, the man with the ball knew where he was going and, if he was faster, he was going to get there if unimpeded.
So the new rules made speed even more important in the game, a game where no one seems to know who’s faster than anyone else.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel