MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins spent much of West Virginia's preseason singing the praises of junior guard Gary Browne, specifically his shooting."Some guys think they're just going to magically become better shooters,'' Huggins said. "Not Gary. He's worked at it. He's in the gym early, he stays late and he's put in the time. He's probably our best outside shooter now.''Well, maybe not the best, but if nothing else Browne certainly isn't far off the mark.Sophomore guard Eron Harris has emerged as WVU's best 3-point threat and is among the Big 12 leaders in 3-pointers and 3-point percentage, shooting just under 50 percent. But Browne isn't far behind, shooting 47.8 percent out there, although on just over one-third as many attempts.
But overall, the 6-foot-1 guard from Puerto Rico remains one of West Virginia's most dependable situational scorers. Heading into Sunday's 1 p.m. home game with Purdue, Browne leads the seven Mountaineers who have logged at least 200 minutes of playing time in overall field goal percentage, shooting 53.8 percent.Those numbers are certainly solid taken by themselves. However, put them into context and they are off the charts.Here's the context: A year ago Browne was a 32.5-percent shooter overall and missed nearly 80 percent of his 3-pointers. His 3-point totals this year (11) match those of each of his first two seasons. He got to 11 as a freshman in 45 attempts and then in 54 tries as a sophomore. He's 11-for-23 one-third of the way through this season.
And the difference is that work he put in. But it's not because he worked and became a technically better shooter. It's because he worked and gained confidence by doing so."It's the reason I practice,'' Browne said. "The more you do something, the more confidence you have.''It's not that Browne was ever a poor shooter, he says. In fact, quite the opposite. He plays during the summer for the Puerto Rican national team and one of the things he's expected to do there is score. For some reason, though, he couldn't do that last year at West Virginia and no amount of coaching was going to help him.
"Huggs helped me and the coach of the national team helped me,'' Browne said. "But at the same time, it's up to me."I'm a good shooter. I've always been a good shooter. I was a shooter on the national team. I just didn't have confidence.''The hope is that Browne's confidence continues to grow. And given that he is becoming healthy for really the first time this season, it should. Browne injured a thigh in practice just before WVU's second game, at Virginia Tech, and had to ease his way back into playing time. He played a combined 49 minutes the first two games — including 28 at Tech that probably made things worse — but then missed the next game against Duquesne and averaged just 17 minutes over the next five.Finally, he was able to play 32 against Missouri and 27 against Marshall, sandwiched around his only really poor scoring effort (one-for-six shooting, but with five assists) against Gonzaga."I couldn't do a lot of things I normally want to do. I couldn't get to the basket and I couldn't play defense,'' Browne said. "Hopefully that won't be a problem anymore.''
BRIEFLY: Again on Friday, Huggins said he wasn't sure if junior college forward Jonathan Holton would become eligible this season, but that he hadn't given up on the prospect and wasn't writing off the possibility. If Holton, who is apparently ineligible because he didn't finish his required work in junior college, were to gain it, it seems logical to assume that it would be between semesters. WVU's first-semester finals ended Wednesday."It's still in the process,'' Huggins said.n Former WVU center Aaric Murray scored 48 points and was 20-for-28 shooting Wednesday night in Texas Southern's 90-89 upset of Temple in Murray's hometown of Philadelphia.Huggins essentially kicked Murray off the team during the summer and both have indicated it was for the mutual benefit of both parties. On Friday, Huggins said that he was "happy for him. I'm happy that he's having success.''Incidentally, in that same game Temple scored on a put-back at the buzzer that was ruled too late after a video review. The shot was by Dalton Pepper, another former Mountaineer who averages 16.2 points for the Owls. Murray averages 24.5 points now for Texas Southern, which is 4-7. Temple is 4-5.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1