Campus Connection


CAMPUS CONNECTION
By John Antonik for WVUsports.com
January 16, 2014 03:50 PM

Coach Mike Carey has his Mountaineer women poised for a return appearance in the top 25 next week.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
Is this Mike Carey's strongest team in his 13 seasons leading the West Virginia University women’s program?
 
It could be.
 
The Mountaineers ran their record to 15-2 with an impressive 73-59 victory at 13th-ranked Iowa State on Wednesday night - 11 days after knocking off previously undefeated Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
 
This year’s team shoots the ball much better than his prior five; it is averaging nearly 14 points per game more than last year’s team that went 17-14 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and the Mountaineers this year possess an abundance of experience and talent.
 
Gale Catlett used to say that chemistry is one of the most important components of any good basketball team and this year’s WVU women seem to have it.
 
Carey’s two strongest squads were his 2010 team that won 29 games and spent a portion of the year in the top 10 before being upset by San Diego State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and his 2008 team that won 25 games, was nationally ranked, and lost to Vanderbilt in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
 
Before that, I think you have to go all the way back to Rosemary Kosiorek’s senior year in 1992 to find a WVU women’s team comparable to this one.

 ***
 
The Mountaineers are averaging 77.9 points per game and have a great shot of becoming the first Mike Carey team to average more than 70 points per game in a season.
 
Carey’s best offensive team was the 2008 squad (Meg Bulger’s senior season) that averaged 69.2 points per game, while shooting 44.7 percent from the floor. This year the Mountaineers are averaging 77.9 points per game as they approach the heart of their schedule, while shooting 43.4 percent from the field.
 
Carey has always had teams that could defend, but this year it looks like they are capable of taking care of business at the other end of the floor, too.
 
***
 
I have been scratching my head as to why a 15-2 team in one of the nation’s power conferences is having such a tough time cracking the top 25 this year. West Virginia began the season just outside the AP poll before losing the season opener by nine to a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team in Ohio State that currently sits at 12-7 on the season.
 
Since then, a somewhat soft December schedule may have led some people to sleep on the Mountaineers.
 
That could certainly be part of it.
 
I also think switching leagues may be a contributing factor as well. When West Virginia was in the Big East there were more teams in the league, in more cities, meaning more top 25 voters had an opportunity to see the Mountaineers play and learn more about them.
 
In the Big 12 there are fewer schools; fewer big cities, and the rest of the conference is still learning what Carey’s WVU program is all about.
 
At least that is one guy’s opinion on why it’s taking the rest of the country a little more time to realize what a good thing the Mountaineers have going on right now in Morgantown.
 
By the way, you can catch the WVU women this Saturday at 2 p.m. against an Oklahoma team that is currently 11-6 and spent some time in the top 25 earlier this year.

***
 
Do you realize what a great junior season guard Juwan Staten is having this year? Staten is averaging nearly 10 points per game more than last year’s 7.6 points-per-game average, is shooting almost 20 percent better from the floor and has already surpassed the 101 assists he handed out last year.
 
Staten is averaging 20.8 points per game in Big 12 play through the first four games this year and he has topped the 20-point mark six times this year, including a 25-point performance in West Virginia’s recent overtime win at Texas Tech. And before you scoff at that, just take a look at what the Red Raiders did to Baylor on Wednesday night in Lubbock.
 
Staten is at or near the top in just about every statistical category in the Big 12 this year, including scoring (third), field goal percentage (third), assists (first), assist-to-turnover ratio (second), steals (fourth) and minutes played (first).
 
If he can keep that up his name will be one to keep an eye on when postseason awards are handed out in March.

***
 
During Jeff Culhane’s podcast with new assistant football coach Damon Cogdell earlier this week, he touched on the subject of successful high school coaches making the jump straight from high school to major college programs. Two that immediately come to mind are Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris.
 
Cogdell says it’s becoming more of a trend these days.
 
“It’s not real rare that a high school coach comes straight from high school to get a BCS (coaching job), but it’s a blessing and I’m going to take advantage of my opportunity,” Cogdell told Culhane.
 
Cogdell also pointed out that he is one of the youngest coaches on the defensive staff this year, so it will be important for him to help bring enthusiasm and energy to the field this spring.
 
“Football is about having fun and winning ball games makes it even more fun,” he said. “I want the kids to get to know me as a person and them I’m going to push them to the highest level so they can compete at the highest level.”

***
 
Who will be the starting quarterbacks for West Virginia’s season opener against Alabama in Atlanta on Aug. 30? That is a question both teams must answer this spring.
 
***
 
The West Virginia baseball team begins practicing on Friday, Jan. 24, in preparation for its season opener against Louisville in Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 14. The Big 12 preseason poll is scheduled for release on Feb. 4.
 
The one pre-season poll that I’ve seen so far, Collegiate Baseball, has the Mountaineers predicted to finish sixth. It will be interesting to see where the Big 12 coaches pick the Mountaineers, that’s for sure.
 
***
 
Last week, I listed the two McDonald’s All-American players associated with the women’s basketball program; they are, of course,  Bria Holmes and former standout center Ya Ya Dunning, an LSU transfer.
 
Well, can you name the two McDonald’s All-American players associated with the men’s team?
 
Does the name Chris Brooks ring a bell? Or Ohio State transfer Greg Simpson? Well, those are the two.
 
I was in school when Chris Brooks played here and he was such a tremendous talent, perhaps the most explosive player around the rim that West Virginia has ever had. Had he been 6-8 or 6-9 instead of 6-6, Brooks would have likely enjoyed a long and productive professional career, in my opinion, because he was such a force in the paint.
 
I know this: a Chris Brooks parked in the paint would fit very nicely on this year’s team.
 
Also last week, I mentioned some of the top performances I’ve witnessed at the Coliseum and I completely forgot about the best one ever – and, no, it didn’t come from those NBA preseason games that were played here in the early 1970s, the 1972 NCAA East Regional with North Carolina and South Carolina, or the Harlem Globetrotter exhibitions – it was the 50 points Tom Garrick dropped on Rutgers in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament right here in Morgantown in front of about 50 people.
 
Garrick was awesome that March night back in 1988 – almost as awesome as the entourage Rhode Island coach Tom Penders had with him in Morgantown that week.
 
If memory serves me correctly, Penders - sporting a full-length black leather coat, an Eighties perm hairstyle (short in front and curly in the back) and a deep, dark Hawaiian Tropic suntan - had a couple of muscle men with him that could have easily worked for the Genovese crime family.
 
I know this, whenever Penders sauntered into the arena everybody else got out of his way, including Atlantic 10 commissioner Ron Bertovich.
 
Bertovich, if you recall, was anointed “the Little General” by the late Voice of the Mountaineers, Jack Fleming. Whenever Bertovich would let John Chaney or John Calipari off the hook for something stupid they had done, Fleming would just shake his head and remark, “What this league needs is a little adult supervision!”
 
Ah, what memories.
 
I have nothing but fond recollections of West Virginia’s Atlantic 10 days, even though the conference was clearly in the shadow of the Big East and it was an absolute nightmare for schools to recruit in.
 
West Virginia had great hoop rivalries with Temple and UMass in the early 1990s, and it was almost a lock that the Coliseum would be full whenever those two teams came to Morgantown.
 
***
 
Seth Davis is out promoting his new book, John Wooden: A Coach’s Life, now available in bookstores. I will probably get a copy of it because I understand it is a nuanced examination of the legendary coach’s career – the good and the not so good from Wooden’s days at UCLA, including his longstanding relationship with Sam Gilbert.
 
Well, I have a nuanced John Wooden story to tell and it comes straight from the mouth of Bucky Waters, who went up against the legendary UCLA coach while Waters was at West Virginia in the late 1960s.
 
Wooden was extremely competitive (you don’t win that many national titles in a row without being super competitive) and sometimes his competitive juices would overflow during games.
 
Waters witnessed that firsthand in a 39-point defeat to the Bruins in 1969 during a stop-over game in LA before the team traveled on to play in a holiday tournament in Hawaii. During one timeout, a couple of Waters’ players came over to tell him that coach Wooden was yelling at them. Perplexed, Waters said no way. Why in the world would coach Wooden be yelling at his players, particularly in a game like this?
 
So Waters started to watch UCLA’s bench, and sure enough, whenever a West Virginia player dribbled the ball near Wooden the coach would take his rolled-up program, place it over his mouth, and begin to shout out, “Watch out! You’re going to dribble the ball off your foot! Don’t turn over the ball! Miss it!” and so forth.
 
“I couldn’t believe it,” Waters told me a few years ago. “Here is this legendary coach, looking all studious with his program rolled up and he was taunting our players! For years, whenever I did UCLA games (for NBC television) and I saw coach Wooden I would tease him about that.
 
“He would just shrug his shoulders and say, ‘well…’”
 
A great basketball coach, a great competitor and I’m sure a very compelling read.
 
Have a great weekend!
 
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