WVU basketball: Mountaineers won't treat Cancun trip as a vacation
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It is what West Virginia's basketball team does during the games, particularly that part where the Mountaineers shoot the ball through the hoop, that has so far defined the season's success.
It's what those players do away from the court that may direct them to the NCAA Tournament they defiantly seek after last years' 13-19 record and this year's seventh-place spot in the Big 12 preseason coaches' poll.
Terry Henderson walked into a furious locker room after the loss at Virginia Tech and in a matter of minutes changed clothes, wrapped some ice around his sore right shin and boarded the team bus.
"I was mad," he said.
Eron Harris has talked to the media after four wins and critiqued things before he would praise anything.
"It all comes down to execution," he said. "We're all just learning how to execute and learning what things we can do. We're still trying to adapt to that and progress each day."
Juwan Staten stood up in front of his teammates following Saturday's 33-point win against Presbyterian, a third straight win in just six days, to make sure their minds were right before they traveled to Mexico for the Cancun Challenge, which begins with today's 6 p.m. game against Old Dominion. The winner and loser advance to play either Wisconsin or Saint Louis Wednesday.
"Everyone understand," Staten said, "this is a business trip. This isn't a vacation."
The Mountaineers (4-1) didn't have a lot of fun last season, and while they're enjoying themselves now with a hot-shooting, high-scoring offense, they are also careful to police themselves and their potential. This is a team that knows now is the time to create good habits and make sure bad ones don't have a place for very long.
"That is very accurate," Harris said. "I'm more serious than I am playful at this point, even though we're not playing high-caliber teams. Right now, I'm going into every game like it's a business affair. We want to be serious."
Harris leads the Big 12 in scoring. He leads the team in stern looks, some aimed at himself during games like the loss to Virginia Tech, when he shot 4-for-17, and some offered to others for not doing things that they're expected to do.
Leading the team with the ball in his hand or with his teammates in his corner is precisely what he's supposed to do.
"Every game I play, I get more and more mature," the sophomore from Indianapolis said. "Coach Huggins lets me know what I do right and what I do wrong and what he expects from me this season, how big of an impact I need to be, some of the things I need to help him with as an extension of him, which is to be a teacher, be a listener, be a learner, be an example."
Those expectations cover a lot of the roster, though. Staten, Harris, Henderson, Kevin Noreen and Gary Browne are the only players back from last season's team. They're the ones who were responsible for first coming together themselves over the summer and making sure they were all going to do their part to unite and lead freshmen Nathan Adrian, Devin Williams and Brandon Watkins and junior college transfer Remi Dibo.
The veterans are the only ones left from a team that didn't have that sort of camaraderie last season. Noreen and Staten are fourth-year juniors, but Staten was in his first season as a player last year - and that Staten was voted a team captain probably says something about the level of leadership that team had.
Harris and Henderson were freshmen who had to find out things on their own, things like when the PRT and the buses on campus ran and when dining halls were open.
"They were going to make sure the new guys coming in were treated the way they needed to be treated, not the way they were treated," Coach Bob Huggins said. "Not that they were treated badly, but there was a kind of indifference. Nobody put their arm around them and said, 'Welcome to the family.' They've gone out of their way to make sure that happens. I'm not knocking those other guys, but that's (this team's) personality and kind of what they think is important, and I think it is."
After the workouts during the summer, the team would hang out at someone's apartment or do something like go bowling on campus. Slowly, the players got to know one another and that led to quicker chemistry and productive familiarity.
Noreen spent the summer in the weight room with Watkins and Williams and he talks to them throughout games. Browne, even when while limited with a leg injury, is constantly on his feet on the bench yelling directions to his teammates on the court. Huggins said that Harris and Staten were both drawing up plays during timeouts Saturday.
It was all absent last season.
"I think it was," Harris said. "To be honest, we didn't have anybody, let alone two or three people who could talk to younger guys or even the older guys. But right now, not only do the older guys talk to the younger guys and try to teach them, but the younger guys teach us, too."