MORGANTOWN, W.Va — Before Juwan Staten was one of 30 college players invited to last week’s LeBron James Skills Academy, he was one of 80 high school players invited to the event in 2010.
When Staten looked around at the participants in Las Vegas, he realized he was the only player to attend both. He understood it said a lot about his career and his ongoing quest after four years, an unhappy freshman season at his hometown University of Dayton, a season on the sideline after transferring to West Virginia, a sophomore season below his expectations and a spectacular comeback as a junior.
“I just looked at it as another blessing,” the Mountaineers’ senior point guard said. “So many people went to that camp when I was in high school. Some of them have done big things and are in the NBA and some have fallen by the wayside. I felt pretty good about being on the right track and headed in the right direction.”
It should go without saying that Staten knows how to play basketball. He wouldn’t have been invited twice if that wasn’t the case. He wouldn’t have been the second person to lead the Big 12 in scoring and assists, wouldn’t have been the first WVU player to rack up 500 points, 150 rebounds and 100 assists in a season, wouldn’t have been first-team all-conference and on the all-defensive team if that wasn’t the case.
There’s only so much Staten could learn about how to play the game in four days of drills, workouts and pickup games last week that he didn’t already know.
There was plenty he could take from the experience, though, as he looked around at his college peers, his famous counselors and, of course, the superstar in the middle of it all. LeBron James is very much a part of the event and not someone who merely lends his name to it and does little else. He inserts himself into the action on and off the court.
There was a dinner the first night that featured a question-and-answer session with James. The participants were free to ask James questions, and Staten said they realized they had an opportunity to hear things they always wanted to hear. They didn’t ask about the playoffs or teammates or opponents or things normally aimed at James.
“It was just stuff everyone wonders about, but nobody knows about because nobody is close enough to answer,” Staten said. “That insight, that perspective, how he handles and carries himself, those things were positive for me to be around.”
The best lessons, though, came from the things James didn’t say and didn’t do. As the camp was happening, James was in the middle of his free agent frenzy that commandeered headlines for 10 days and ended with him returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Staten watched closely and said James never showed any sign he was susceptible to the spotlight.
“I watched everything,” Staten said. “I watched how he handled the media, how he handled all the attention he was getting. I watched his facial expressions. I looked for anything I could pick up on to help me in my situation.”
Staten’s situation is the leader of a team that’s missed the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons and has a .500 record over the past three seasons. He’ll also be running the offense and keying the defensive effort for a team that lost its second-, third- and fifth-leading scorers earlier than expected in the offseason and welcomes three junior college transfers, two high school freshmen and two players who were ineligible and sat out last season.
“It’s definitely harder,” Staten said. “You have to start all over again. It’s a whole new process again, and it starts off the court, not on it.”
Staten understands he’ll be the one getting all the attention from all directions.
“I noticed that he’s been through it so much that it doesn’t really faze him,” Staten said. “He’s used to it. He’s used to being stared at every time he goes somewhere. He’s used to being asked questions and being bombarded, but he carries himself like a professional. He answers every question the right way. He smiles and shakes hands with people. He’s real personable. Those are all things I picked up on.”
The event gave Staten and the others a chance to put what they’d learned to the test. They were in Las Vegas, dropped amid the casinos and restaurants and night clubs and assorted diversions. The NBA’s Summer League was happening and the players had friends and former teammates playing and pulling them away from the reason they were out there.
Staten found that to be an interesting coincidence and considered the “magnitude of the distractions” to be part of the process.
“Bringing you to a place like that and making us conduct our business was like the ultimate test,” he said. “You don’t know your surroundings. You don’t know a lot of people around there. The summer league games are going on and the media is everywhere. There’s a lot of buzz about it all and that was a little bit more pressure on us, too.
“It made us realize those are the types of situations we’re going to be around pretty much every day if we’re lucky enough to get to that level, so we need to be able to manage that stuff.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.