Mountaineer fans got the news they have been waiting for on Thursday morning when junior-to-be Sagaba Konate withdrew his name from the NBA draft and decided to return to Morgantown for at least one more year.
Konate impressed at the NBA combine, but his size (6’6”) and his lack of a consistent outside shot had him projected to go in the late second round or undrafted completely. When the man from Mali heard those reports, he quickly made his decision to come back to school, improve on those areas and win some more games at the collegiate level.
And winning games is something the Mountaineers will have a great chance to do.
Konate’s decision solidifies an already stacked roster for Bob Huggins.
Losing Jevon Carter—who is going to be a draft pick—and Daxter Miles will definitely sting when the team rolls out the carpet for the first time next season. They combined to start over 200 games and scored over 3,000 points between them. Also gone are Teddy Allen (Wichita State), DeAngelo Hunter (Nicholls State) and Maciej Bender (Mercer). That is quite a long list of departures. So how does a team lose five players, one of them a legend, another a solid four-year contributor and get better?
Well, the answer is easy. More natural talent and much more depth. Plus, the year after Peyton Manning left Tennessee, the Volunteers won the national title, so history has shown it can happen.
West Virginia is bringing in a stellar recruiting class headlined by Emmitt Matthews, Jr. who committed just a few weeks ago after de-committing from UCONN when coach Kevin Ollie was fired. Most fans don’t realize that Matthews is actually a higher ranked recruit than the infamous Jordan McCabe according to Rivals.com. Speaking of McCabe, he and fellow recruit Trey Doomes should fit in perfectly in the Press Virginia system. McCabe, the Wisconsin high school player of the year, can shoot, dribble and pass it maybe better than anyone in the 2018 class. Doomes is a slasher with incredible leaping ability to fly above the rim. He is being compared to a left-handed Daxter Miles with maybe even a tad more potential.
Matthews is like a human pogo stick. He has a lot of bounce, is a streaky outside shooter and will be a huge asset to the press defense.
Derek Culver and Andrew Gordon are coming in to give Konate help underneath the rim. If you don’t know much about Culver, it won’t take long to learn. He is a 6’11” athletic specimen that can hit from outside, dunk with authority and defend players out on the wing. There is a reason that out of high school he was offered by Arizona, Kansas, Cincinnati, Clemson, Florida, Indiana, N.C. State, Purdue and Xavier. To put him perspective, in a game in late March for his prep school Brewster Academy against D-1 competition, Culver had a game where he scored 35 points and had 16 rebounds. Some are even saying he will be the best natural basketball player on the roster.
The Mountaineers also added Jermaine Haley out of Odessa Junior College. He is a 6’8” point guard. Yes, point guard. He may play other positions, but running the point is his forte. Haley was a 5-star recruit according to Scout.com out of high school. He committed to New Mexico State and played against Baylor in the NCAA tournament in 2017.
Not only do the Mountaineers welcome in all these new faces, but they return quite a few familiar ones as well.
Esa Ahmad, who withdrew his name from the NBA draft ala Konate, Lamont West, Wes Harris, Beetle Bolden, Chase Harler, Brandon Knapper and Logan Routt all return. If those guys make the expected year-to-year improvement, the Mountaineers will have so much quality depth that it may be unrecognizable to fans. Assistant coach Erik Martin recently stated that this will be the deepest team Huggins’ staff has EVER had as far as players 1 through 13.
Knapper has yet to play a minute, but he is three years removed from high school and by all accounts, is ready to breakout as long as he can stay injury free.
The Mountaineers have been very good each of the last four years. Carter and Miles laid the groundwork for “Press Virginia” and deserve their own little corner in West Virginia lore.
But with the depth, talent, athleticism and returning experience, 2018-19 could be THE year to remember for WVU.
Now, will the officials let them play? Eh, that’s a topic for another time.
Projected Starting Lineup: