When West Virginia makes its sixth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance in 2013 under veteran coach Bob Huggins, go ahead right now and hand out an assist to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
Last month, the network’s popular bracketologist failed to include West Virginia among his early NCAA tournament projections
, and that has certainly caught the attention of the Mountaineer players. Around here, morning slips past the rooster more frequently than Huggins’ teams miss out on the NCAA tournament.
“As a team, we saw the ESPN brackets for next year and they didn’t even have us in there so that’s something that we discussed and that’s something that we are going to try and strive toward,” said point guard Juwan Staten
In order to do that, West Virginia is going to have to rely on guys like Staten, a Dayton transfer, and forward Aaric Murray
, a transfer from La Salle, to help them get there. Both had to sit out last season in order to satisfy NCAA transfer requirements.
“This is the only time I’ve ever had to sit out for this long of time,” Staten said earlier this week. “I’m always doing something. This year was really rough. I’ve never had an injury that caused me to sit out for a while; I’ve never been suspended or anything like that, so I’ve never sat out like this.”
When a player knows he’s not going to play it’s tough to remain motivated and Staten admitted that was something he had to fight through last winter.
“At first it was hard,” he said. “I just talked to my dad every day and he let me know that there was the bigger picture beyond this year and everything I’m doing this year is going towards next year when I can play. Really, after I stopped thinking about myself and started thinking about my teammates, I just figured that I could help them by just sharing anything that I know or by pushing them every day, especially the guards Jabarie (Hinds) and Gary (Browne) being freshmen. They went through their ups and downs and I just wanted to be there to try and make the transition a little smoother.”
Staten has also gone through his ups and downs after an impressive high school career, first at Thurgood Marshall (Ohio) High where he led them to the Division II finals as a junior, and then at nationally recognized Oak Hill (Va.) Academy where he played on the nation’s seventh-ranked team. His performance at Oak Hill led to an opportunity in 2011 to play at Staten’s hometown school Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
At Dayton, Juwan started 34 games as a freshman and led the conference in assists with 190 while averaging 8.5 points per game to earn Atlantic 10 all-rookie team honors. Despite a successful first season with the Flyers, helping them to a 22-14 record and an NIT berth, Staten was looking for a change of scenery and a different style of play.
Enter perennial Big East contender West Virginia, which has turned out to be the right fit for him, even after the Mountaineers chose to switch leagues and join the Big 12 Conference for the 2012-13 season.
“Sitting out this year, I was definitely thinking about the Big East guards - who was coming back and the teams I would be playing against,” Staten said. “Us switching to the Big 12 kind of threw a little change in there but I honestly think it’s better for us. I know Coach Huggs is trying to move toward more of an up-and-down type of game and I feel like the Big 12 runs a lot more than the Big East did. The Big East was kind of a mixture of all types of teams. I feel like we’ll be able to run a lot more in the Big 12 and it will be more of an open-court game.”
And an up-and-down style of play suits Staten just fine.
“I like to get out in transition and make a lot of plays in the open court, get up in defense and just play and make the game faster and more exciting, so that definitely plays into my style,” he said.
Staten may have spent last year observing from the bench, but he was still involved in every aspect of the program leading up to the games. During games, he visualized what he would do in certain situations and offered advice to West Virginia’s young players whenever he saw fit to do so.
“I sat there and thought about certain things that I would do differently if I was on the court, but I just tried to pull Jabarie and Gary aside and kind of tell them those things when they came out of the game during timeouts,” Staten said.
In the past, Staten was known primary as a guy who could get to the rim and finish, or get into the lane and pitch the ball out to an open player on the wing, but now he knows in order to become a well-rounded player he has to continue to work hard on his outside shooting. He says that part of his game remains a work in progress.
“Shooting has been a big thing with me,” Staten said. “That’s really been my focal point while sitting out this year is getting my shooting better so I can really help the team next year.
“In the past my game has really been getting to the rim and getting into the lane for 15-foot pull-ups and finding my teammates,” he continued. “But sitting out this year I really wanted to work on my 3-ball because that was something I felt I needed a lot of work on, and then just continuing to knock down outside shots, because I feel like that’s something that I am going to need to do this year.”
West Virginia is losing a combined 3,000 points in Kevin Jones
and Truck Bryant, not to mention the leadership those two players brought to the court, but despite his newcomer status in the Mountaineer program, Staten will be looked upon to help provide leadership this season – a role he relishes.
“I’ve always considered myself a leader just because I play the point guard spot,” he explained. “I tried to sit back a little bit last year because I wasn’t playing and tried not to say too much. But as soon as the season was over I was sending out texts to the guys letting them know that we were going to get into the gym and work hard.”
Staten says the time away from the court has allowed him to spend more time in the weight room, and he believes the work he’s done with strength and conditioning coach Andy Kettler has really helped his game.
“I definitely feel like I’ve gotten stronger and a lot more explosive since I’ve been here,” Staten said. “The biggest thing with Andy is been putting on as much weight as I can handle and putting on the right weight to make sure I play efficiently. I’ve gained some weight since I’ve been here, but I’m still moving great and still feeling more explosive, so that’s definitely a plus.”
Another plus is Staten can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel after a year away from competition. Now all of the hard work he is putting in has an immediate purpose.
“It’s definitely a lot easier to work now because I see what I’m working towards,” Staten said. “Last year it was harder because it would be easy to take a day off or not work as hard because I wasn’t playing that week or I had nothing to really look forward to in the immediate future. Now I’m working toward the season, so it’s much easier to try and prepare for that.”
As for his decision to transfer after just one year at Dayton, Staten is certain he made the right choice by coming to West Virginia.
“I think this is the best decision I’ve made because it helped me take a year off from competing and actually work on my game,” he said. “But I was still able to practice every day and I was still able to go to the games so I was able to brush up on the things that I needed to while still being able to compete every day in practice. I felt like I got the best of both worlds.”
Staten is excited about finally putting on the West Virginia uniform next season and being a part of what he believes is a very talented group of returning players.
“I think we have a great team,” he said. “ESPN, they kind of gave us the short end not ranking us in the top 40, but I think we have a great team and us having a chip on our shoulders can’t do anything but make us better.”