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WVU basketball: A lot expected of Staten

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - A year ago, Eron Harris led West Virginia in scoring, something a freshman hadn't done since Warren Baker was the top scorer during his first season with the Mountaineers 30 years earlier.

A season later, Baker set WVU's single-season record by averaging 39.6 minutes per game. That might stand for three decades, too, because these Mountaineers might need that much and more of their point guard.

"Juwan Staten is going to play a bunch of minutes," Coach Bob Huggins said after Staten played all 40 minutes in WVU's season-opening win Friday against Mount St. Mary's. "I probably played him too many, but we have to."

Not that anyone was complaining, of course. In the first start-to-finish game of his career, Staten scored a career-high 22 points and had a team-high six assists, five rebounds and two steals. WVU (1-0) will look for more of the same today when it plays Virginia Tech (0-1) at 1 p.m. at the Cassel Coliseum. The game will be televised by ESPN.

WVU will need a little of everything and sometimes a lot this season, especially as the Mountaineers blend in three freshman and a junior college transfer. The Mountaineers are also waiting for sophomore Terry Henderson to get over the inflamed shin muscles that kept him out of the exhibition win against Fairmont State and the Mount St. Mary's game last week and likely will have him on the bench again today.

"I'm very capable of doing everything I showed (Friday)," he said.

"I know we don't really have a whole lot of players and we don't really have a deep bench. I know I'm going to have to play a lot of minutes with a lot of young players. That forces me to step up in other areas. I know we have young guys inside, so we have to gang rebound. That forces me to get in the paint and hang around and catch loose ball rebounds."

WVU is light on returning players because of the amount of players who graduated (three) and transferred (five) after last season. Among the five returning players, though, Harris scored the most points while Staten had the most rebounds, free throws made and attempted, steals, assists and minutes played last season.

That wasn't necessarily by design, either. Harris was the team's top offensive option and Henderson was the most reliable perimeter shooter. Gary Browne had more offensive rebounds and a better free-throw percentage and no one was trusted to make the right decisions as much as Kevin Noreen. Staten, to put is plainly, struggled as a shooter.

He nevertheless worked throughout the offseason to earn and deserve whatever superlatives would come his way during his third year and second season with the team. Staten began at the University of Dayton in 2010-11 and led the Atlantic 10 in assists and finished second among freshmen nationally.

"Wanny kept talking about wanting to be the leader," Huggins said. "I tried to explain to him that the best leaders I ever had were guys who wanted to lead by example. They were the hardest-working guys in practice every day and also guys who knew what we wanted to do. It's hard to lead people in that direction if you don't know what direction you're going in."

Despite the things he did last season, Staten was also a distraction at times. He began the season seemingly intent on fulfilling the promise that accompanied his transfer and started the first 14 games while Huggins tried six starting lineups. He led the team in scoring five times and was playing more than 10 more minutes per game than everyone else.

Then he was benched in the second half of a win at Texas.

"It's my team, not his,'' Huggins said after the game. "We all talk about being on the same page. Well, I wrote the book, so he's going to be on the same page with everybody else or he's going to continue sitting over there.''

Huggins followed through and didn't play Staten at all a few days later in a one-point home loss to Kansas State, a game when Browne, Staten's backup, lost the ball in the backcourt with 9 seconds to play and could only force up a desperate shot at the buzzer.

Staten, who was voted a team captain before the start of last season, started only seven more times in the final 16 games and never led the team in scoring again.

"My whole life, I've been kind of recognized as a leader, so for our coaches to say last year we didn't have any leadership really struck home for me," he said. "I did some personal stuff, some evaluation in the offseason. I looked at a lot of game film and a lot of tape and I thought about some of the things I could do this year to help this team and to separate myself as a leader.''

Huggins said Staten found his coaches in the offseason and asked how he could avoid the problems that hurt himself and his teammates last season. Staten wanted to know how he could lead the team, but also what he needed to do to help the Mountaineers win more games than they did when they finished 13-19 last season.

The answer? A lot.  

"He's worked at it and he's put in the hours to figure it out," Huggins said. "But that's what we want. He's done a great job digesting what we want done and he's done a great job leading by example. He stays late and he's put in a bunch of time to do it right."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu

 


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