MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–When West Virginia got pummeled by Texas A&M in the season opener, a lot of people questioned the capability of Bob Huggins’ team.
There was a lot of doubt in the young Mountaineers team. The national media played out Esa Ahmad’s suspension as the end of the world and it was only possible that Kansas would win its 14th consecutive Big 12 title.
“The guys on the team, a lot of them, it was really their first game, their first real big game,” Jevon Carter said. “You can tell guys that didn’t really know what to do, look at me and Dax a lot at what to do.”
However, WVU fans have witnessed a steady growth of their team.
“We (are) getting better,” Daxter Miles Jr. said. “We still got a lot to learn and still got a lot to work on but I think we are getting better.”
Miles has shown a consistency that he has lacked in his three previous seasons in Morgantown.
The senior guard is averaging 26.9 points per game. He is improved tremendously at the charity stripe, shooting 73.9 percent and has become a leader to the younger players.
“Dax has put more time in this year than he’s probably put in the previous three years in terms of trying to study the game, study the opponent and getting in the gym,” Huggins said. “He’s not been a very good free throw shooter for three years and he’s really taken it to heart. He started out bad but has shot it well since.”
Then there is Jevon Carter, who has emerged into one of the best all-around point guards in the game.
While the two seniors are the heart of the Mountaineers, everyone appears to be maturing.
Wesley Harris is turning into a talented defensive asset. The sophomore is averaging 5.8 rebounds per game and has eight steals. Those aren’t the greatest numbers but he has gotten better each game.
Huggins believes he is going to be special.
“I think he will end up being a terrific defender, not a good but terrific,” Huggins said. “He’s got length. He’s got width. He can run and jump. I think he can be an elite defender for us. It just comes down to understand what people are going to do. As he grows and sees different things and has to adjust to different things, he’s going to be great.”
Looking back to the Advocare Championship, WVU trailed Missouri by 16 with about seven minutes remaining in the game. The Mountaineers put together a furious rally to come back and win the game.
During that run, WVU displayed not only heart and effort but also great maturity. When the Mountaineers were out of timeouts, Carter was coaching his teammates on the court.
What was even more impressive was when Beetle Bolden was coaching Chase Harler.
“We practice three hours everyday and we’re supposed to get better,” Huggins said. “I don’t think anybody has given these guys the credit they ought to give because we are playing so many young guys. Our sophomore class is a huge class. These guys haven’t played.
“Sags (Sagaba Konate) played a little bit last year behind Elijah (Macon). Chase (Harler) hardly played. Beetle (Bolden) didn’t play much. Lamont (West) played a little bit more than those guys but we don’t have veteran guys. We have two seniors and I think we have one junior. The rest are sophomores and freshman. That’s a lot of stuff to learn. We’re getting better. They try.”
In Tuesday’s 68-61 victory over No.15 Virginia, WVU put forth a complete game for the first time this season.
“We learned a lot. I think the lesson today was keep your foot on the gas pedal and stay solid throughout the whole game,” Miles said.
Once Big 12 play begins, the Mountaineers will get Esa Ahmad back and it could end up being a fun season.
But there is lots of room for improvement ahead.
“We’ve got to get better offensively,” Huggins said. “We don’t go through any kind of progression when we get the ball in terms of who’s supposed to come open first and if he’s not open who’s supposed to come open second. We’ve got to keep getting better at that. That’s why we are trying to keep the ball in JC and Dax’s hands as much as we possibly can because their better at reading the play.”
As disappointing as the loss to the Aggies was, it may have been just what WVU needed to fuel the fire and prepare for a tough road ahead.
“I think we got way better,” West said. “We always look back at the Texas A&M game with regret. We wish we could of played better. We just hope that we never play like that again. So we just keep in mind that we played bad that game and we are just going to try and play our best for every game from now on.”
Photo Credit: Ben Queens- USA TODAY SPORTS