When West Virginia was unceremoniously throttled in the National Invitation Tournament by Georgetown two weeks ago, many fans were consoled by the fact that the Mountaineers would be returning their entire team, with a chance to make a run at a Big12 title.
Six days later, though, coach Bob Huggins announced some shocking news — starting shooting guard Eron Harris would be transferring. Suddenly, 17.2 points and arguably the best perimeter shooter on the team was gone.
Not only that, but recruiting for 2014 was done, and had been done for some time. The Mountaineers were already focused on 2015 and beyond, but suddenly the coaches were back on the trail, evaluating top prospects and scouring film, looking for a scorer who could come in and play immediately.
Over the next few days, several names emerged, but two junior college guards floated to the top.
The first was T.J. Dunans from Columbia State College in Maryland. Dunans led his team in scoring, rebounding and assists, averaging 22.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists. He’s a long and lean slasher at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, showing ability to get to the rim whenever he pleases. That ability has resulted in offers from Auburn and West Virginia, and a lot of interest from more than two dozen other programs.
There is one issue, however. Dunans was originally slated to receive his associate degree and enroll at the college of his choice in 2015. Due to his strong season and his desire to get to the next level as soon as possible, Dunans is pushing hard to graduate early. He’s taking extra classes this spring and will do so again this summer. While extremely talented, the fact that there will be no definitive answer on his status until July or August may keep him from being the answer for West Virginia.
The solution may very well be at a school known more for its football program than basketball. Independence (Kan.) Community College shooting guard Tarik Phillip is a 6-3, 195-pound sophomore who averaged 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds this season on 55.7-percent shooting from the floor and 38.6 percent on 3-pointers. He also dished out a respectable 4.7 assists per game.
His all-around game caught the eye of Huggins, who made his way out to Kansas to watch him practice last week. Within 24 hours, the Mountaineers made an offer and moved Phillips to the top of his list. Phillip, who committed to South Carolina out of high school, is planning to take an official visit to Morgantown later this month and could be on “commit watch,” assuming he makes it to campus.
If neither of those two players end up in this class, State Fair (Mo.) Community College shooting guard Kevin Punter is getting an extended look from Huggins and company. West Virginia could also scour the transfer market — a list of players that has routinely reached into the hundreds over the last few years. While late in the game, there are still a multitude of ample options for WVU to fill the hole left by Harris’ departure.
Chris Anderson is a full-time writer for eersports.com.