In regard to personnel, all seems settled within the West Virginia University men’s basketball team. Departed guard Jevon Carter has been drafted by the NBA Memphis Grizzlies. Carter’s backcourt mate, Daxter Miles, has found a two-way contract landing spot with the Sacramento Kings, according to Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins.
Also, on Monday, the West Virginia program “rolled out the carpet” via Twitter for freshman Emmitt Matthews Jr., who is enrolled in the school’s latest summer session. All recruited for the upcoming team are now in the fold for Huggins.
Yet what will the team look like when it opens the season against Buffalo on Nov. 9?
It’s an interesting question. There’s certainly a buzz around the Mountaineers because of the newcomers. Those within the program see the potential of the six newly on board. They see the versatility. But caution isn’t being thrown to the wind either.
“I kind of want to see guys play,” Huggins said. “I want to see what they can do, what their strengths are… I mean, obviously we know about the returning guys. But it’s a whole lot different watching guys on the AAU circuit or in a junior college game to what goes on here. They’ll find that out certainly.”
We know, for instance, the unquestioned star heading into the season will be big man Sagaba Konate. He was so impressive as a sophomore last season the NBA invited him to its combine.
Yet that’s just the start. The frontcourt will also boast returning starters Esa Ahmad and Wes Harris. (The latter of which, by the way, recently turned an ankle.) Lamont West, who recently received attention from NBADraft.net as a possible 2019 NBA draft pick, will also be back. He was a starter the first half of last season while Ahmad was suspended.
“You know what you’re going to get from Esa, pretty much,” Huggins said. “And I think we’re going to get a lot more from Sags. I really do.”
It’s could be one of the nation’s best 2018-19 frontcourts. And that’s without considering additions 6-foot-9 Andrew Gordon, a sophomore, and 6-10 Derek Culver, a freshman. Gordon is said to be an athletic center that can step out and shoot, but he’s still rehabilitating a knee injury. Culver is a long rim-protector who runs the floor well and competes rebounding the ball.
“I think with Andrew, because he didn’t play a year ago, because he’s still kind of rehabbing that knee, he’ll probably start a little slower than the rest of them,” Huggins said. “Derek is going to get thrown in there with grown-ass men. Andrew is a big dude. Sags is a big dude. Logan [Routt] is a big dude. And they all know how to play and have more experience than Derek.”
As Huggins mentioned, 6-11 Routt, who hails from Cameron, also returns.
In the backcourt, much was certainly lost via Carter and Miles. Yet there’s still much optimism. If South Charleston native Brandon Knapper returns from a pulmonary episode, he’ll certainly be in WVU’s plans.
“[Carter] said this past year the hardest guy he played against all year was Nap,” Huggins said.
Huggins said returning guard James “Beetle” Bolden isn’t just a 3-point specialist, but has “been terrific” as a leader. The problem is Bolden has mostly been shut down this summer with a high ankle sprain.
That opens the door for returning guard Chase Harler and newcomers Trey Doomes, Matthews, Jordan McCabe and combo guard Jermaine Haley in the backcourt.
Doomes has already impressed the coaching staff with his ability to finish, move in transition and display a junkyard dog defensive mentality. He has what’s been described as an ugly shot, but an all-around game that could turn him into a very productive player.
McCabe made a name for himself before arriving in Morgantown via his highlight videos that showed off his ball-handling, passing and shooting. He’s said to be terrific playmaker.
Matthews is a versatile 6-7 lefty who can dribble and score. Haley, 6-7, is a big pass-first guard whose size helps him see over defenses and contest layups.
“I liked it when Da’Sean [Butler] was at point guard,” Huggins said. “He didn’t like it at all, but I liked it a lot. Talk about being about being able to switch everything. We could switch everything and the smallest guy on the floor was 6-6. I liked that a lot.”
The Mountaineer coach has also said having former players like Butler, Tarik Phillip, Jaysean Paige, Kevin Jones, etc., return in the summer helps with the development of newcomers.
“They probably do a better job of preparing them for what’s to come than anybody,” Huggins said. “They’ve been through it. They know how much it’s helping them now in their basketball careers. They sell it way better than I ever could.”
A starting lineup of Konate, Ahmad, Bolden, Harris and West probably won’t work because there’s no point guard in the group. So will Knapper return and claim the job? Will McCabe be the man? What about Haley? And does that sit West back down?
Whatever the case, Huggins seems to finally have the numbers and depth to create tempo as he wishes. Even walk-on Taevon Horton, West Virginia’s 2018 high school player of the year, could contribute. And the Mountaineer coach shouldn’t have to worry about protecting players – see Carter, Miles – from foul trouble in his “Press Virginia” defense.
Again, though, go back a paragraph and read carefully. Huggins seems to finally have the numbers and depth.
“Don’t we always think that until we actually see them?” asked the coach. “It’s a whole lot different playing in an AAU game than having someone up your shirt here. A whole lot different. It’s hard to explain how multi-faceted you have to be to be a good basketball player. You have to be able to guard and rebound and there’s transition offense and transition defense and zone offense and zone offense against a 1-3-1 and 2-3 and 3-2 and 1-2-2. There’s a lot of things to learn. And that doesn’t count man offense and man offense against perimeter teams and man offense against post teams.
“You have to rebound the ball. We didn’t do a very good job of that early on [last season] and as we spent more time on it we got a little better. We were a bad transition team and hopefully we have guys now that are better with the ball and will make better decisions in transition. We are a transition team. It’s scary how good we could have been [last season] had we been a really good transition team. Because we go in transition as much — if not more than — anybody in the country.”
“We’ll have to see,” Huggins said. “I’ve given up trying to figure it out a long time ago. Everybody always wants to know what I think this guy or that is going to do. Hell, how do I know?
“If we can get all our guys healthy and keep them healthy and not have a flu go through the team like a year ago, who knows?”