MORGANTOWN — At the end of a season in which he played so well, it turned out Juwan Staten wasn’t as good as it seemed.
Oh, West Virginia’s junior point guard led the Big 12 in scoring, assists and minutes played and finished the regular season ranked second in assist-turnover ratio, fifth in field-goal percentage, eighth in steals and tied for 17th in rebounding.
He struggled with predictions, though.
“My dad’s been a motivational speaker for a while and he told me in order to achieve my goals, I need to set them first,” Staten sad. “I had to give myself something to strive for. So before the season started, I told myself I wanted to be a unanimous decision for first-team all-conference and I told myself I wanted to be the player of the year.”
The Big 12 announced its annual awards and all-conference teams Sunday and the league’s coaches named Staten first-team all-conference, though not unanimously, while voting Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim the player of the year instead of Staten or Kansas star Andrew Wiggins.
Staten was still a clear candidate for both his goals. And the path he planned in the offseason and the manner in which he followed through to help the Mountaineers finish their regular season — with a win against No. 8 Kansas and a sixth-place finish in the final standings — may make him the league’s boldest player.
“I felt like I had the ability to do it and I felt like I had the teammates to help me do it and the coaching staff and the system,” Staten said. “It was up to me to put the work in and give myself a chance.”
Staten did just that, right through the end of the season. He had 24 points, five rebounds and nine assists against the Jayhawks and Wiggins, the league’s freshman of the year who scored 41 points against WVU Saturday and was the only other player other than Ejim to be a unanimous all-conference pick.
Unanimous honors evaded Staten because Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane both play point guard and made the first team. At least one coach picked Smart or Kane or both over Staten, but Staten was also picked by at least one coach ahead of Smart and Kane.
“He’s the best true point guard,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “You can put Marcus in that equation and you can put Kane into that equation. The three of them are all good, but those two are combo-type guards. If you’re talking about a true lead guard, no question he’s the best.”
Staten’s five baskets and 14 free throws pushed him atop the scoring leaders past Ejim, who had 12 points in an overtime win against Oklahoma State. The nine assists kept him ahead of Kane, the transfer from Marshall who was also the league’s newcomer of the year.
Staten is the second player to lead the Big 12 in scoring (18.4) and assists (5.94). Baylor’s Pierre Jackson did it last season. Staten was also on the league’s all-defensive team with Smart, a repeat all-defensive pick, and Kansas center Joel Embiid, who was the league’s defensive player of the year, plus Baylor’s Isaiah Austin and Texas teammates Demarcus Holland and Cameron Ridley.
“On my ballot for All-America, the one where you’re allowed to vote for your own players, I voted him first-team All-America,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said of Staten. “I think he’s the best point guard in the country with what he does for us, what he does on both ends of the floor, when we’re in the best league in America.”
The last WVU player to win a player of the year award was Greg Jones, the Atlantic 10’s winner in 1982 and the co-winner with Rutgers center Roy Hinson a year later. Staten would seem like a leading candidate for player of the year next season because Ejim and Kane are seniors and Wiggins and Smart are expected to go pro.
Staten will consider the NBA, as well, and plans to enter the draft process and make a decision based on the response he receives.
“I think that would be everyone’s goal, if you asked them if they had the opportunity,” Staten said. “It’s definitely my goal and it’s what I expect to explore after the season.”
The conversation was different last season, his first with the Mountaineers after leading the Atlantic 10 in assists as a freshman and sitting out the following season after transferring from Dayton to WVU. Staten averaged 7.6 points. 2.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists and shot 37.6 percent from the floor. He was benched for a loss to Kansas State and later didn’t start for seven straight games.
“If anybody has followed me through my years of basketball, I’ve always been a good player,” Staten said. “In high school, in some rankings I was a top-50 player, always a top-100 player. It’s not like I just came out of nowhere. I’ve always been a good player.
“When you move up levels of competition, you need to make adjustments. I had a good freshman year, but when I transferred to a bigger conference, a new coach, a new team, there were adjustments I needed to make. After a year of getting a grasp of everything, learning how everything was supposed to run, I was able to make adjustments and that’s why I’m having the year I’m having now.”
He’s one of the best playing in the top RPI conference and is among the nation’s most improved players. He set a record for minutes played in Big 12 games, increased his averages by 10.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.64 assists and shot 12.2 percentage points better from the field. Staten scored in double figures in every game but one — he had four points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in a 96-47 win against Loyola (Md.) in December — and had at least 14 points in 28 games, including the last 23.
He leads the Mountaineers (17-14, 9-9 Big 12) to the Big 12 Tournament, where they’ll play No. 3 seed Texas (22-9, 11-7) and conference coach of the year Rick Barnes at 9:30 p.m. Thursday on ESPN. Last season, WVU was the No. 8 seed and lost to No. 9 seed Texas Tech in the opening round. Staten didn’t score, didn’t take a shot and had one assist and one turnover in 19 minutes.
“I had a belief in myself,” Staten said. “I’ve always been able to find success in every level I’ve played at. Some people get there later than others, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to get there. It took me a while, but I figured it out and I never had any doubt in my mind.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu.