The conversation came before Sagaba Konate’s near triple-double on Tuesday against Baylor in Waco.
Mountaineer assistant coach Erik Martin was talking about the development of his 6-foot-8 sophomore.
And within that conversation came a suggestion, a proposal, a nomination.
First, consider Konate’s season to this point. With WVU 20-8 and ranked No. 21 in both major polls, he’s averaging 10.4 points and 8.0 rebounds. (After the team’s win over Baylor Tuesday, Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins said, “I didn’t want to take him out because he was the only one that could get a rebound. He played really, really well.”)
Also, playing 25.1 minutes per game, he’s converting 51.7 percent of his shots. He’s hitting 77.5 percent of his free throws.
And then there are those blocks. He has 91 this season. At 6-8. In that Baylor game, he had nine.
So let’s get to Martin’s comments. And wait for it. Wait for the proposal.
“I’ve done this before,” said the assistant coach, who works with WVU’s big men. “I’ve worked with Joe Alexander. I’ve worked with Kevin Jones. I’ve worked with guys with freakish athletic ability and guys that didn’t have it. Sags is kind of in between Kevin and Joe. No one is the athletic freak that Joe Alexander is. I don’t think I’ll ever see that. And someone that got the most out of their athletic ability was Kevin Jones. He wasn’t a great jumper or shooter, but scored and rebounded with the best of them.
“Defensively, [Konate] is off the charts. Joe wasn’t that good of a defensive player. K.J. wasn’t a bad defensive player. But when you have someone that will meet you at the rim and block shots, that will get your attention.
“I can honestly see Sags getting a lot of votes for Big 12 defensive player of the year. It might be split between him and Jevon [Carter].”
It was one of those slap-the-head, wow-I-should-have-had-a-V-8 moments. Because of course Konate should be considered. And he probably should win it.
“He gets better and better and better all the time,” said Huggins.
The problem, of course, is Carter still plays hard. Also, there’s Texas big man Mo Bamba if you want to consider sultans of swat.
Yet Konate not only changes shots, he changes games. Just ask Baylor. He tied the most blocks not just at the Ferrell Center, but in any game ever against the Bears with Texas A&M’s David Harris in 1990.
“He’s a big dude and he’s really physical and has great timing and great instinct,” said Baylor’s Jake Lindsey. “Put him at the back of that press and it’s a problem.”
“I would like that,” Konate said of the possible honor, “but I’ll give it to J.C.”
Whatever the case there, give Martin a tip of the cap. Very good thought. And also give Martin, Huggins and the other coaches credit for bringing Konate along to become one of the Big 12’s most dominant big men. He doesn’t just block shots, he pins them. He two-hands them. Again, at 6-8.
“Sags has just been more coachable,” Martin said. “I’m grateful I get a little attention for how much he’s improved, but we have a saying: I will tell you what to do, but you have to do the work. I think him being more coachable this year has contributed to his improvement. But at the end of the day, Sags has to get in there and work on his jump hook. He has to work on his up-and-under.
“The other thing is Sags has only been playing basketball for like five years. So his upside is off the charts. I told him the other day, ‘You have to trust me and I’ll trust you. Together, it be a ‘we’ thing. I don’t need all the [accolades]. I went to the Final Four. I had a chance to play for money. All good. This is about you. But we have to trust each other.’”
“He’s done a good job of trusting me. And I told him I’ve always trusted him. When he gives me a reason not to, then we’ll have issues.”
So far, though, so good for WVU in regard to Konate.
So very, very good.