By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
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.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.