The Times West Virginian

February 3, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- WVU men just getting started on the court

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — A start.

That is how West Virginia’s players are looking upon what is happening to them these days.

Yes, they went to Baylor and upset the Bears. Then they returned home and bounced Kansas State, a team that had handed them their worst defeat of the season a couple of weeks earlier.

Some people, quite naturally, see things like this happen and begin to think they have arrived.

Well, West Virginia’s players aren’t laying claim to anything yet.

“We ain’t done nothing yet,” is the way guard Eron Harris put it. “What if we were the team that was supposed to win a big game at home. It’s just a game. We haven’t done anything yet. We have accomplished little, small goals inside our big goals, which are to win the conference title and the national championship.”

That isn’t this year, certainly not with two players they had counted upon to balance them inside and outside failing to earn eligibility.

So this year they carry six guns into the battles loaded with just three bullets, and that doesn’t lead to fair fights.

“For all I know we have to stay consistent right now and stay humble,” Harris continued. “We’ve taken steps. We just have to keep taking steps. We can’t go backward. We have to keep moving forward.

“We are a lot more together now. We spend more time together. We’ve finally got some good wins together and when people win together they come to appreciate each other better. They start to accept their roles. This is working.

“We just have to stay consistent in all aspects … in our mindsets, our physicality. It never was easy.”

But you can see that they appreciate each other and what each brings to the table, and next year it should really grow, for this week Juwan Staten, who has taken ownership of the team and is coming off his biggest game with a career-high 35-point performance against K-State, declared he planned to return next year for his senior season.

With him back for a second season with this group and with the missing pieces added, WVU looks very much like a contender in the Big 12.

Coach Bob Huggins has been behind Staten ever since he got him via transfer from Dayton, even when he struggled last season and had trouble scoring.

“Honest to God, I thought Wanny could score,” Huggins said after the Wildcats were defeated Saturday. “I thought we’d get more out of bigs, but they are getting better. They just don’t understand how hard it is. It’s a hard game. They play hard for a while, then they relax and you can’t do that.”

But Juwan Staten, Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, along with Remi Dibo and Nathan Adrian, offer an alternative to leaning on the bigs this season with Staten now the key figure.

“He could do this any time he wants. He could do this every game. We are all proud of him and will stay behind him,” Henderson said.

And what you are seeing now grew out of the warmth of the summer as they polished what they started during the disappointing 2012-13 losing season.

“We spend time in the summer playing every day,” Henderson explained. “We play with each other every day in the summer, so we know each other. It was just a matter of experience, of us taking our role personal and trying to perfect it. If everyone plays his role, we’re really hard to guard and to beat.”

Staten’s role is to provide the spark while the others feed off of him.

“Wanny’s role is to make things happen and lead the team. He has a lot on his shoulders, but he’s done a great job so far,” Henderson said.

Then, if you get Dibo or Adrian going, WVU becomes special.

“A fourth guy makes it really hard for defenses,” Henderson said. “It keeps everything spread and makes it hard for them to guard Wanny. He can drive on them. Ain’t nobody can stay in front of him.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel