LUBBOCK, Texas - The impact Jonathan Holton might have on West Virginia's basketball team from an X's and O's perspective remains a great unknown.For that matter, his eligibility itself remains in doubt, so perhaps any discussion of his impact is premature.This, however, seems certain, at least as far as almost everyone inside the program is concerned:Holton would provide a spark.
"Well, one thing he does is he raises our spirits,'' point guard Juwan Staten said.So much about Holton remains a mystery. And that includes the question of whether or not he will even play.Those close to the team seem optimistic, if not confident. The 6-foot-7 junior college transfer hasn't played during the team's first 15 games - the latest of which was Monday night's 89-86 overtime win at Texas Tech - because he had not yet completed requirements for his two-year degree. By all accounts he has done so now, though, and so it's simply a matter of gaining approval from the NCAA to add him to the active roster.The hope is that the NCAA does that this week and by the time WVU hosts preseason Big 12 co-favorite Oklahoma State on Saturday afternoon Holton will be in uniform. He's been allowed to practice all along, and so even though most of his practice time has come with the scout team he at least has a working knowledge of what Bob Huggins' team likes to do.
And it's those three months of watching Holton practice and playing against him every day that has the Mountaineers at least encouraged by what he could add. Despite the fact that he knew he would not play for a while this season - if at all - by all accounts Holton has brought his game to every workout."He's definitely an energy guy,'' Staten said. "He has a high motor. He comes ready to work every play. And that's something that we really need.''It's something the Mountaineers need not because they have a lazy group or anything like that, but so many of West Virginia's key players - four of those in what has been a nine-man rotation this season - are newcomers who have never played at this level.Huggins preaches constantly - ad nauseam, some would argue - the necessity of never taking plays off. WVU's three freshmen - Nathan Adrian, Devin Williams and Brandon Watkins - and junior college transfer Remi Dibo are learning that as the games tick off, but it's never a bad thing to add someone to the mix who lives that philosophy.
That Holton could be a guy who brings that is almost contradictory in a way. With apologies for painting with perhaps too wide a brush, junior college players tend to have their flaws, which is often why they wind up in junior colleges in the first place.And certainly Holton arrived at West Virginia in late August with some baggage. At the top of the list was the video voyeurism charge that got him kicked out of Rhode Island after the 2011-12 season. And after spending a year in junior college in Florida, WVU wasn't even his original choice of new schools. He had committed to Florida International, but changed his mind after Rick Pitino's son, Richard, left FIU to become the coach at Minnesota.Huggins even signed him with a contingency attached, that he satisfactorily dispense with the Rhode Island charges. When he did so in May, many could not help but still see Holton as a reach - another kid with a checkered past that Huggins hoped to rehabilitate in exchange for a few rebounds.
A funny thing happened when Holton showed up, though. It seems as if everyone fell in love with the guy who worked his tail off. Apparently the only ones who weren't stunned by that were Huggins and his staff.Well, and Staten.Staten had never played against Holton, but the two did have a connection of sorts. Staten was a freshman at Dayton in 2010-11. He'd already decided to transfer when Holton was signed by Rhode Island, but college basketball is essentially a small world. In the Atlantic 10 - of which both Dayton and Rhode Island are members - players stay informed."I'd already heard about Jon, just from me being in the A-10 and him coming into the A-10 when I left,'' Staten said. "I knew a little bit about him and knew that [a high-energy guy] was just the type of player he is. You just expect him to play that way anywhere he goes. That's what good players do. They take their game with them anywhere they go. He's at West Virginia now and we're glad to have him.''Well, whether or not the Mountaineers have him for what remains of this season is still a question mark. A final ruling could come at any time. Huggins was less than pleased that it didn't come late last week when he and his team left on this two-game Texas road trip.If Holton is added to the mix, though, he could bring the kind of rebounding and inside scoring presence this perimeter-oriented team needs. He's not likely to post eye-popping numbers, but his presence, by all indications, will add a piece to the puzzle that is missing.
And the energy he could bring certainly won't hurt."Having a new team, a young team, we need energy guys and guys that are going to give great energy every day,'' Staten said. "And that's what he gives us, along with a skill level and his other attributes. If we can get him eligible soon that would be great for us. I think it'll lift our spirits.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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