WVU sports have suffered a number of heartbreaking losses over the years, most recently against Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. A slumped over Nathan Adrian after the final possession was the perfect image for an all too familiar feeling.
Four years of grueling conditioning, relentless practice and seemingly endless frustration has molded Bob Huggins’ Press Virginia defense into what it is today. The Gonzaga loss burns greater by the day as the rest of the tournament unfolds, knowing that only No. 11 Xavier and No. 7 South Carolina stood in the way for a spot in the National Championship game.
The losses of Adrian, Tarik Phillip, Teyvon Meyers, Brandon Watkins and James Long will be felt in the offseason. These seniors transformed West Virginia basketball into what it is today. Everything that WVU basketball has accomplished over these past four years could not have been possible if it wasn’t for the day-in and day-out dedication of these guys. I’m sure Coach Bob Huggins could not be prouder of a group of seniors.
But as they say, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Mountaineer nation has repeated this season after season since the university’s founding. This time around however, that saying could not be more accurate.
It is time for the REAL emergence of Jevon Carter.
Carter showed that it’s his game in crunch time, and he’s perfectly okay with being the go-to guy. In the 2017-18 season, Carter will look to become the vocal leader Adrian was, while continuing to be the workhorse on the press and offense.
The end of the Gonzaga game will loop in Carter’s mind for most of the offseason. It will be the motivating factor that pushes him into working hard every day. Opposing coaches beware; Carter is going to be a nightmare next season.
It simply begins with Carter, as most of the supporting cast returns for next year. Carter will look to dominate alongside fellow senior Daxter Miles. The duo has been through hell and back together, and that veteran experience will pay off. ESPN’s Jay Bilas claimed that Carter and Miles were one of the nation’s best backcourts this past December.
Esa Ahmad returns for his junior season and will look to use his game changing athleticism to dominate. His 27-point performance against Kansas in Morgantown showcased his abilities to be the go-to scorer Huggins desperately needs.
Also returning will be senior Elijah Macon, who played his best basketball during the second half of this past season. Macon proved he can be a consistent scorer on the block with a bag full of tricks in his arsenal.
The youth movement on the WVU roster will be prevalent like it was when Carter and Miles arrived. Lamont West, Sagaba Konate, James “Beetle” Bolden and Maciej Bender will need to improve to carry this program to new heights.
West scores the ball about as well as anyone on the team; while also being one of the best athletes on the court. Don’t be surpised when West is one of the top scorers in the Big 12’s near future.
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Konate garnered plenty of national praise last season as a freshman, and for good reason. Chris Webber, the play-by-play announcer during the Bucknell game, went crazy after Konate made a poster block. With an improved offensive game coupled with his rim-protection, WVU basketball is in good shape.
Bolden played sparingly last year; but will most likely slide into Teyvon Myers‘ roll as the spark plug off the bench. Bender will look to define his role during the offseason. The NBA has produced the modern style of the big man: tall with long arms, can stretch the floor with his shooting, capable of guarding all five positions. Huggins is hoping the 6″10′ Bender can blossom into that player.
Then we have the recruits. Derek Culver, ranked 89th in ESPN’s annual Top 100 recruits, will be joining WVU in the fall. Culver is a 6-8 forward who can score inside-and-out. His presence should be felt as soon as he steps on campus (pending he makes it).
Charleston, WV native Brandon Knapper is the other high-profile recruit in the 2017 class. Knapper looks to be a perfect player in the Huggins system; a facilitating point guard who can pressure defensively, but also score.
2017-18 should be a good one for the Mountaineers. There will be no shortage of firepower, leadership or grit. Huggins has built a perennial contender in Morgantown, but it’s more than just being in the conversation that counts.