By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
There were moments last year, and to be totally truthful there were quite a few of them, when one could not quite understand what Bob Huggins had seen in Juwan Staten to make him believe he could run his team from the point.
It just wasn’t working, the point guard being what drives any offense and the WVU offense clanking along like a ’53 Nash Rambler.
Huggins, though, knew what he expected from Staten when he convinced him to transfer to West Virginia from Dayton and felt if he could find a way to bring it out of him, it would make everyone around him better.
For the most part, Huggins chased off a good many of Staten’s teammates from last year’s 13-19 season, but he clung tightly to Staten and nursed him through a crucial offseason, one in which Staten grew into the player he was looking for all along.
“Juwan has been terrific. He really has,” Huggins said after yet another sparkling performance in a 96-83 victory over Duquesne in which he scored 28 points and had nine assists and but one turnover. “He comes in and listens. He’s trying to do the right things. He’s trying to run our team. He’s trying to be an example for the other guys.”
The beauty of it is that Huggins got his points across to Staten while making him initiate what it took to make the changes. You ask him about it and it isn’t him saying, “Well, Coach told me to do this” or “Coach said I should act like this.”
Nope. It’s more like this.
“I finally got a good grasp of the offense, of what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “Coach Huggins gives me a lot of responsibility and freedom.”
The truth was, he always had that freedom. It was just as a first-year player in the system under as strong-willed a coach as Huggins he didn’t know it or was afraid to use it.
Both Staten and Eron Harris, in their second years, are blossoming, Harris putting up a career high 33 points with Staten’s 28 against Duquesne.
“As Eron told me, ‘Coach, I understand why you were so frustrated a year ago. A year ago I had no idea. I was just running around trying to figure it all out.’ I think as the season went on he started to figure it all out,” Huggins said.
“Now they have ideas how to get opportunities out of the offense. I think Wanny (Staten) is the same way. They understand the offense a lot better.”
And the main thing they understand is that he is very strict in how he wants his offense and defense run, but that doesn’t mean the player should perform like a robot.
“They understand now you don’t do the same thing all the time,” Huggins said. “Do something else. You can be very creative in this offense. Last year we were just pass and screen away, pass and screen away, pass and screen away. We weren’t very creative, so it wasn’t a very good offense.
“But you don’t have to do the same thing every time. No one said pass and screen away every time. You can pass and cut to the basket. You can pass and go to the ball. You ball screen. You can back screen. You cross screen. You can diagonal screen. You can post. You can flair screen.”
To make it work, however, the players almost have to read each other’s mind.
“But you have to have guys on the same page. What’s happened with Wanny and Eron, and I think Terry (Henderson) will help that to a degree is they are more on the same page than they were before,” Huggins said.
Both Staten and Harris understand that.
“It’s all about chemistry. If you are playing with a whole bunch of guys you don’t know, how are you going to play well?” Harris said. “But if you know these guys like brothers, it’s easy to play with them.”
And, Staten says, you don’t just get to know them on the court, but off the court, too, so that you are in their mind.
“It is coming down to knowing my teammates on the court and off the court ... and them knowing me, too,” Staten said.
“This is a college campus where a lot of our players are not from here. It’s just so much easier to hang out with those guys you know and call your brothers. You build bonds off the court and it carries over onto the court,” Harris added.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.