MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Publicly, West Virginia's basketball season begins tonight with the Gold-Blue Debut at the Coliseum. Privately, though, it began on a bowling alley over the summer with Juwan Staten leading the way like he hopes he will this season.
"I won," the junior point guard said. "They're probably going to make jokes about that because I bowl with two hands and underhanded, but it got the job done. So I'm not really worried about what they have to say about it. At the end of the day, I won."
Staten is right. He did win. His teammates are still laughing.
"He gets it with two hands, squats, looks up and rolls, but it's a strike every time," sophomore guard Terry Henderson said. "Once he started doing it, it was over.
"I was laughing. Everyone was laughing, like, 'Why are you bowling like that?' Then he started getting strike after strike after strike and then we were all like, 'OK, now I see why.' "
Unlikely to shoot free throws underhanded when tonight's festivities begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Coliseum, Staten and the Mountaineers believe the slam dunk contest and the 40-minute scrimmage will show observers this team is different from last year's team.
"Bowling was just something to get us out of the house and away from basketball so we could hang out and have some fun together, but I feel like this team has a better feel for one another and trusts each other more than before," he said.
The Mountaineers have many new faces and an obvious storyline is how freshmen Nathan Adrian, Devin Williams and Brandon Watkins and junior college transfers Remi Dibo and Jonathan Holton perform - or in the case of Holton, if he performs.
Yet WVU has just as many veterans who were on hand for last season's 13-19 record and everything that went wrong on and off the floor.
"I can't actually explain to you what happened last year, but it was just not there," junior guard Gary Browne said. "We loved each other on the court, but I'd probably say everyone wanted to put their egos into it.
"Right now, we actually enjoy practicing and competing against one another, and after that, we're all tired, but we try to hang out together. I feel like it's helping and why we're getting along real well on the court."
Those same veterans - Browne, Henderson, Staten, junior Kevin Noreen and sophomore Eron Harris - made sure old and new spent a lot of time together over the summer and then once the fall semester started late in August.
"Not a coincidence," Noreen said.