Column - Future is bright for WVU men
Published: Monday, March 19, 2012
Updated: Monday, March 19, 2012 00:03
As West Virginia left the floor following its loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA tournament, it marked the end of an era.
With Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant departing for the next step in their respective careers, the Mountaineers will start next year with some uncertainties.
But sometimes that can be a good thing.
This year, WVU was young. With so many young players, the Mountaineers hadn’t really gotten to experience the grind that comes with playing a full season at the Division I level. Now that they’ve gotten to be in an NCAA tournament and see what it’s like – they have an idea of what to expect now.
And after the way it was eliminated from the tournament by Gonzaga last week, West Virginia will enter next season hungry to make sure it doesn’t suffer another early exit.
"To let this happen for our state, for our staff, for our fans – it’s an embarrassment," said freshman point Gary Browne, following Thursday’s loss. "I’m really sorry for what happened today.
"Next season, I can promise that won’t happen again."
There will be plenty of talent coming in to replace what the Mountaineers lost this year when next season begins, including arguably the two most talented players from this year’s team.
Junior center Aaric Murray and sophomore point guard Juwan Staten will be eligible to play after having to sit this season out due to NCAA transfer rules, and both are expected to make huge contributions as soon as they step on the court.
Murray will give West Virginia a versatile post player who can dominate in the paint, as well as step out and make midrange jump shots. He showed flashes of brilliance in his two seasons at La Salle, where he averaged more than 15 points and seven
rebounds per game and will have the daunting task of replacing Jones in the Mountaineer lineup.
Staten will bring back the style of point guard play that WVU hasn’t had since Joe Mazzulla and Darris Nichols ran the offense. As a freshman at Dayton, Staten led the Atlantic 10 Conference in assists and averaged close to nine points per game.
On top of the two transfers who will be back, head coach Bob Huggins has brought in a strong recruiting class with players who could come in and contribute immediately.
The best will be Elijah Macon, a power forward from Huntington Prep and the No. 41 player in the country, according to ESPNU.com. Macon’s coach at Huntington, Rob Fulford – who also coached current Mountaineer Deniz Kilicli – described the 6-foot-8 forward as a combination of Kilicli and Jones.
West Virginia will also bring in a sharpshooting guard from North Carolina in Terry Henderson, and Eron Harris, a guard from the prestigious Lawrence North High School in Indiana, which produced NBA players Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr.
Once again, the Mountaineers will have a young group of players in the 2012-13 season, but the thing that I think really gives it a lot of potential is that it’s slowly continuing to become more like the successful teams Huggins had during his time at Cincinnati.
There will be a lot of athletes on the floor at any given time for WVU next year; they’ll be able to get out in transition and run the floor like Huggins likes his teams to do.
Now, how good they will be once the season starts is still to be determined, but with talented players like Murray, Staten and Macon coming in, paired with the players the Mountaineers have who are hungry to prove a point after such a devastating loss in the NCAA tournament, anything can happen.