MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- So far during their run in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club's Pro-Am summer league, a team of West Virginia University newcomers has turned a 24-point deficit in the first half into a 58-54 game and then played into overtime and lost 61-60 when a buzzer-beater went bad.
"That," said point guard and Dayton transfer Juwan State, "is growth."
And that, says just about everyone on that SteelCity-Tickets.com team, is what the league is about this summer. Oh, the kids - five freshmen, two college transfers and one sophomore who played all of 37 minutes last season - are 0-2 and have at times looked very worthy of the record.
While they really want to win the league, they're there for a greater purpose.
Just about each of the six players who are eligible for the upcoming season - 6-foot-10 sophomore forward Kevin Noreen and freshmen forwards Tommie McCune and Keaton Miles, point guard Gary Browne, guard/forward Aaron Brown and center Pat Forsythe - are going to need to contribute.
College teams get to put 13 players on scholarship. Staten and 6-10 LaSalle transfer Aaric Murray are among WVU's 13, but have to sit out the 2011-12 season. The Mountaineers are then left with 11, which is actually better than the nine they had for most of last season.
Simple math says the other six, plus freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds and junior college forward Dominique Rutledge, must complement seniors Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant and junior Deniz Kilicli.
"Having this many new guys is almost unheard of," said the 6-7 McCune, from Saginaw, Mich. "You don't see it every day because it can be hard to play with so many freshmen, so it's pretty much like our backs are against the wall.
"But I hate to get embarrassed. The rest of the guys are the same way. We're going to work hard and learn to play together to help the team."
Take it a step further. If the next WVU team is to go places, the freshmen are going to have to have a say in it. The way the team is constructed, the way they're going to play with the floor spread and the Mountaineers slashing to the basket, it must be this way.
This is not news. This is why they're all together for the Pro-Am.
"Look at what happened to the Miami Heat," Miles said. "They're professional basketball players, but they needed time."
The seven-team league is a blessing for WVU - and it comes before the team gets together and practices in advance of the four or five games the Mountaineers will play in Italy next month.
High school seniors struggle with one thing above all others early in their college careers. The game is impossibly different.
The opponents are bigger and faster. The court feels smaller, by any measure, be it sideline-to-sideline, baseline-to-baseline or floor-to-rim. The windows through which you can run, shoot, dribble and pass close quickly. If you're not careful, confidence shrinks.
Just about everyone the freshmen are playing against at the Greentree SportsPlex was lifting weights and playing college games while the freshmen were worried about homecoming or ACT prep. Now they're on the fast track playing a valuable game of catch-up.