The West Virginia basketball program endured a disastrous 2012-13 season. Head coach Bob Huggins struggled to find a group that understood what he wanted out of them. A 13-19 finish resulted in a large roster shake up.
Deniz Kilicli and Dom Rutledge graduated, while Aaric Murray, Jabarie Hinds, Keaton Miles, Volodymyr Gerun and Aaron Brown decided to transfer.
That left just five scholarship players on WVU’s roster during the offseason in Juwan Staten, Eron Harris, Terry Henderson, Gary Browne and Kevin Noreen. Those were the five players who decided to buy into what Huggins was trying to accomplish in turning the program around quickly.
At 6-2 and just eight games into the 2013-14 campaign, it is clear that with the leadership of those five players, the Mountaineer basketball team is in complete unison.
“This past summer when we all first got here and we all walked in, I could tell automatically the whole team’s chemistry was going to be different,” Henderson said. “Everybody got along with each other, we don’t have cliques or groups, it’s really nice.”
That chemistry built up through offseason workouts, shootarounds and summer league games helped to develop a first-hand connection among the team, which was something that wasn’t there a year ago.
Harris is averaging 20.3 points per game while Staten is averaging 16.4 points per game. Staten is also the Big 12 Conference leader in assists and assist to turnover ratio. Seeing how Staten likes to facilitate the game at point guard, Harris feels he and his teammates are able to think ahead a little bit more.
It’s a feeling that each player on the team generally has about each of his teammates.
“Last year was the first time I had met Juwan (Staten), so I just kind of hopped in and played with him, and we didn’t have chemistry. Same with Terry (Henderson) and Gary (Browne),” Harris said. “But this year everyone knows what we can do. I know when Juwan is going to take a shot, because I know what he does before he takes a shot. I know when Gary or Terry will take a shot, so I know when to go try to get a rebound. The chemistry is better than last year.”
That chemistry is allowing for everyone on the roster to get involved. WVU registered five players in double figures for the second time this season during Monday night’s win over Loyola.
In the game, Harris, Henderson, Kevin Noreen, Remi Dibo and Nathan Adrian all reached double-digit scoring.
Dibo had a game-high 19 points against the Greyhounds.
“We know it could be a different guy every game because we have a lot of capable shooters and scorers,” Noreen said. “And it’s nice knowing we’re playing as a team because we’re all together this year.”
The veterans on this roster made a conscious effort to make team cohesion necessary. Players like Harris and Henderson decided to do something that didn’t quite happen a year ago, accept the freshmen right away.
With only five returning scholarship players, Huggins wanted his leaders to take the freshmen and try to get them to understand that they had to contribute right away in order for the Mountaineers to win games early on.
Adrian, Devin Williams and Brandon Watkins have all contributed. Williams even has three double-doubles this year, which is already the sixth most for a freshman in WVU history.
“We talked about needing these freshmen to step up and play. (Huggins) told the freshmen and us that, so we bought into that,” Henderson said.
With that chemistry and togetherness, there is a resounding confidence from every player on the roster. Harris said he believes this team will only get better as the season continues.
“I see these teams that are ranked top 10, and I’m looking at what they’re doing, and think my teammates can do the same thing. Maybe those teams just do it a little more consistently than we do it,” he said. “As we learn, we’re going to fix that problem. We’re going to definitely be top 25 before this year is over.”
WVU will take on Missouri Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.