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October 31, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Staten adds new element to WVU

MORGANTOWN — Basketball at the highest collegiate level is a game of a complicated mix of talents — athletic, mental and coaching, probably as much or more so than any other sport.

Indeed, the players must play offense and defense, unlike their football counterparts, and while a football play can be complicated in that there are 11 men on a team rather than just five, basketball has every bit as many variations off its plays, and when you mix in the number of defensive philosophies that can be used to counter, it becomes an amazing maze of options.

Certainly, basketball is a game that can be dominated by one player’s talents more than any other game as Michael Jordan and LeBron James have shown us, but in most circumstances, the key man on the court becomes the point guard.

That is why Bob Huggins feels his West Virginia University team has a chance to be really good this season because, for his first time since taking over for John Beilein, Huggins is deep and rich at the position which makes the offense run and which finds the paths to the defense no matter what the defense throws at you, from a man-to-man to a zone, to a matchup zone, to a zone-press, to combination zone and man defense.

Transfer Juwan Staten from Dayton may be the missing ingredient that turns the Mountaineers from a borderline NCAA team a year ago to a team that looks as though it legitimately may develop into one with a chance to go deep into the tournament.

“Some of the guys we’ve added give us weapons we didn’t have before,” is the way Huggins put it. “We now have a true point guard.”

A year ago circumstances were such that Huggins had to take Truck Bryant and move him into the shooting guard spot while playing a pair of freshmen in Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne, each a talented player but not really an experienced point.

“Staten has been a point guard all his life whereas Jabarie wasn’t and Gary wasn’t,” Huggins said. “But in saying that, those guys played point a year ago so now we have more people who can handle the ball.”

Staten will be the engine that makes this team go, a nifty passer who loves to run. At Dayton in 2010-11 he started 34 games as a freshman and led the Atlantic 10 in assists for the season.

This is exactly what Huggins is looking for, because now there is depth as well as promise at the most crucial position.

“It helps us, because we have more than one guy that you trust with the ball,” Huggins said.

And he can rest that guy, Staten, and use both Hinds and Browne on the floor together, if he wants.

“We played Jabarie and Gary together some last year, so they are used to being on and off the ball,” Huggins said.

These riches at the point have been denied Huggins since he arrived from Kansas State in 2007-08, returning to his alma mater to what he hoped would be his final job.

“Really, when I got here Darris Nichols was my only point guard,” he said. “He played just a ton of minutes because Joe Mazzulla had no idea how to play the point then.”

Huggins, however, felt he had to teach Mazzulla how to play the position and put him on a crash course with Nichols doing a lot of the teaching.

“As Joe started to learn, and he learned a lot from Darris, we brought Truck along … and that’s when Joe got hurt,” Huggins said.

Mazzulla hurt his shoulder, an injury which almost cost him his career and which took much of a full year away from him. So determined was he to play, and so necessary to the team, that he played even though he could not get his left arm over his shoulder, the left-hander even shooting free throws with his right hand.

“So, with Joe out, we had to throw Truck in the fire, and we didn’t even have a backup,” Huggins said. “Think about it, Da’Sean Butler was our backup point guard.”

Then, just before the NCAA Tournament, Bryant broke a foot and was out, but he had filled in long enough for Mazzulla to battle his way back. Still, the depth was nowhere in sight at the NCAA’s in which WVU went to the Final Four.

“If you watch the Kentucky game, after Joe fouled out, it was awful. We had Devin Ebanks and Da’ bringing the ball up the floor,” Huggins said.

They held on to win, but last year it came down to starting all over as Huggins had to play the freshmen at the point.

Now, the problem seems to be solved, and what was a shaky position has become a strength, maybe the biggest strength on this WVU team.

“This is the first time we’ve had more than one guy who has done it more than a couple of times,” Huggins said. “It’s kind of refreshing, really.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter@bhertzel.

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