The fans rushed the court Saturday — approved and endorsed by Scoop & Score — and a dream came true for Eron Harris.
I promise I’m not going to take much time and space screaming into the night about Juwan Staten not winning Big 12 player of the year. I didn’t think he would. I thought he was deserving, but I thought Andrew Wiggins would be the pick. I thought a week ago Melvin Ejim might win it, but I just don’t agree with him winning it now. He didn’t finish strong, he didn’t perform well against Kansas and especially WVU and he just didn’t statistically supersede Wiggins and Staten.
But if we’re being honest, Wiggins and Ejim have their teams firmly in position for the postseason and Staten does not, and there’s a strong feeling among coaches and among those who vote for these awards that you need to have a team in the NCAA Tournament before the announcement if you want to win a player of the year award. There is something to that, but I think there’s also something to being the guy and doing everything and also getting your team close.
I’m actually more surprised and taken aback by the fact the league’s leader in points and assists wasn’t a unanimous first-team all-conference pick, but when coaches are made to pick their top five, some coaches are bound to pick traditional lineups, which means one point guard. Maybe two.
But, whatever, let’s just talk about the boldest player in the Big 12. WVU plays Thursday night against struggling Texas in the Big 12 Tournament. The last time WVU was in the conference tournament, Staten bottomed out and did this.
And then over the summer, he told himself he was going to be unanimous all-conference and player of the year.
“My dad’s been a motivational speaker for a while and he told me in order to achieve my goals, I need to set them first,” Staten sad. “I had to give myself something to strive for. So before the season started, I told myself I wanted to be a unanimous decision for first-team all-conference and I told myself I wanted to be the player of the year.”
Seriously, after the way he played last season — and let’s remember, there were times he didn’t play — it took some sort of audacity to set goals like that. Or not.
“If anybody has followed me through my years of basketball, I’ve always been a good player,” Staten said. “In high school, in some rankings I was a top-50 player, always a top-100 player. It’s not like I just came out of nowhere. I’ve always been a good player.
“When you move up levels of competition, you need to make adjustments. I had a good freshman year, but when I transferred to a bigger conference, a new coach, a new team, there were adjustments I needed to make. After a year of getting a grasp of everything, learning how everything was supposed to run, I was able to make adjustments and that’s why I’m having the year I’m having now.”
It was February 8 and West Virginia had just lost by 14 points to No. 8 Kansas, the Mountaineers giving in after giving up a run they tried to hard to avoid for the first 35 minutes. The locker room lecture from Bob Huggins was short by comparison and it pointed toward the future.
“I just told them in there, ‘We’re going to win in Morgantown. When they come back to Morgantown, we’re going to win. We’re going to figure out how to win,’ ” Huggins revealed.
Messages come from the top on this team, and in the hallway outside the locker room a few minutes later, Eron Harris echoed his coach.
“I think we’re going to be fine,” he said. “This is our first time playing Kansas this year. They had a great crowd, like they always do. We’ve got to get some better play from some people, including myself. But we’ll be fine. I’m very confident in that. I’m ready to play them again. At home last year, we lost by five. We’re better than last year. I’m happy we got to play against them. Like I said, the next time, we’re going to know them a lot better. We’ll be fine.”
What that did in the moment probably can’t be overstated. The Mountaineers had played Oklahoma three days earlier and won to end a 16-game losing streak to ranked teams. They then battled whistles and foul trouble and the opponent’s depth to stick around for much of the game before the bending begat breaking. Two days later, they were to play Iowa State.
WVU won that game and the Sooners-Cyclones upsets seemed to reposition the season and aim it toward something some had hoped for and only few had expected. Yet the Mountaineers lost three in a row a after that and have won only once since, and now here comes Kansas. WVU can speak and act as confidently, but WVU isn’t playing as confidently, which is the worst case because the silver lining a month ago was that the Mountaineers had been close despite playing below-average basketball on the road.
“I thought we played pretty well there,” he said. “It was a four-point game with (five) minutes to go,” Huggins said. “Terry played probably the worst game he’s played since he’s been here. Remi made some shots early, then didn’t make any. I thought we could play a lot better.”
That’s the goal today. Finding a way to win, in all honesty, doesn’t require a lengthy search. “Make shots,” Huggins said.
Make post, Mike said.
Welcome to the Friday Feedback, which at long last has the answer to the $25,000 question. Bob Huggins gets a nice little nest egg if he beats Kansas in the regular season, which you (likely) already knew. It’s not a new thing. We learned about it before the start of last season.
But with WVU playing Kansas Saturday, and with the arrangement never really explained, now seemed as good a time as any to get some background.
And we did.
Huggins again directed questions to his attorney. That’s fine. That’s Huggins. I’ve had a bunch of people tell me he just doesn’t concern himself with salary and negotiations and the like. His contract was amended in November 2012, but before that, he wasn’t really sure what his salary was. He knew it was good for him and good for WVU, and that was all that really mattered. I suspect Huggins wasn’t leaning over the table in negotiations and demanding the clause be included, but I was curious if he had plans for the $25,000 (does it go to his charity, does it go do a particular endowment, etc.).
Never got that information.
It wasn’t fruitless, though. Remember last year, when Huggins was asked on a conference call — not the best idea, by the way — about the clause and he said he had nothing to do with it and suggested similar questions go to his attorney? Well, that attorney is his longtime representative, Richard Katz, and Katz confirmed his client’s claim. It was all Katz’s idea, but also something that only came up as “an afterthought” as he and Oliver Luck were wrapping up the amended version.
WVU’s athletic director corroborated that and specifically remembered having to decline a few of Katz’s requests for incentives because of the way the NCAA had evolved to be suspicious of some bonuses related to academics. Then, rather innocently, Katz suggested a bonus for beating the Jayhawks. And that was that.
It’s still quite a story, even if it isn’t particularly incendiary, because I think many people suspected there was some specific motivation. Katz was careful to say the clause really has nothing to do with Kansas and is just another way to reward a good deed. One or two wins is now treated the same, or about the same, as winning coach of the year nationally ($50,000) or in the Big 12 ($30,000).
So it’s not a really big deal, and it’s merely an accessory to everything else that’ll happen tomorrow, but it’s natural to hold our attention because it is unusual. And now, Bill Self will shake the room.
“I think the world of Bob Huggins and consider him a good friend,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I’m going to do everything I can to keep money out of his pocket, and if I don’t, I know who’s buying dinner.”
Onto the Feedback. As always, comments appear as posted. In other words, blame it on the dog.
Whose bigs get more shots blocked by the rim than ours?
I can’t imagine anyone would be ahead of the Mountaineers. And then there’s this, which I have to look into, and for which I would welcome help. I met a fan in the airport yesterday — a fan of WVU’s who saw me reading a media guide — and he told me WVU leads the nation in dunks allowed. He was adamant. Said there was a stat online. I can’t find it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe it.
We had some classic postgame Bob Huggins last night, who again spent close to half of an hour after the game with his defeated team, trying to counsel and console and critique WVU after another damaging double-digit loss.
“Our dreams, our hopes to get to where we weren’t last year, which is the NCAA Tournament, we know time is running out,” Williams said. “We’ve just got to come together as a unit and figure out how to commit ourselves on the defensive end.”
Turns out Huggins was just warming up, because he undid the top button and let loose, just a little bit, after the game.
You are looking live at the return of Terry Henderson. No. 15 strutted out of the tunnel, buds in ears, and started hoisting 3s. The third went in and then, like all good shooters, he followed with a layup to build a streak. Savvy.
The Mountaineers are better with him, as we learned the past three games, and he’ll make a difference tonight. Henderson had 17 points and made 3 of 8 3-point shots in the home win against the Sooners last month.
And then he got sick.
In his career against the Sooners, he couldn’t be more uneven, really. In the Old Spice Classic last season, he was 1-for-6/0-for-2 and had two points and five rebounds. In the home game against Oklahoma last season, he was 7-for-14/6-for-11 and had 21 points and two rebounds. Then in the return game here at the Lloyd Noble Center, he was 1-for-3/1-for-3 with no rebounds.
Good news? He’s back. Bad news? The pattern suggests a bad game, if you believe in patterns.
I don’t, but I know he’s practiced the past two days and went through a walkthrough today and he obviously went quite some time between practices and workouts. You have to be reasonable with your expectations for his wind and his legs (but I’ve seen him dunk four times in this pre-game warmup the team is going through, and he seems to have a good bounce about him as he goes through the routine).
If he gives you 20 minutes tonight, I feel like that’s a lot, right? I might start him to make the most of whatever adrenaline he has and then see how he feels after he sits up and gets down again. I’m not sure I want him warming up and then sitting on the bench to start the game.
But I’m not the guy with the third-most wins among active coaches.
(Update: The starters tonight are Nathan Adrian, Remi Dibo, Devon Williams, Eron Harris and Juwan Staten.)
And I suppose it’s right to mention this: WVU felt pretty good Saturday afternoon about getting used to playing without Henderson.
Here’s the challenge tonight: Make the best of a good situation. The Mountaineers haven’t made the best of bad situations this season — no real comeback wins of note, an 0-9 record in games they fall behind by 10, etc. — so it would behoove them to take advantage of good news, the kind that hasn’t come around too often this season.
You know come around all the time? Game posts. Hit me.
You know, that’s not the best celebration picture I’ve seen, but that’s a pretty good encapsulation of what happened last night and what it meant for West Virginia’s women’s team. The Mountaineers beat Kansas and clinched a share of the Big 12′s regular-season title. Baylor won last night, too, which means the Bears are co-champs and actually the No. 1 seed in the weekend’s conference tournament.
Things are less definitive for WVU’s men’s team, which can still finish as high as tied for second place in the conference standings or alone in eighth place.
Let’s begin with the most optimistic outlook, because that’s all the Mountaineers are concerning themselves with as they push for the postseason. They believe they’ll go 2-0 and then have concrete plans for the rest of the month.
“I just think if we win the next two games, we’re in,” said guard Eron Harris, whose 3-pointer at the end of regulation and two more 3s in overtime led the way to a 91-86 win against the Sooners last month to snap a 16-game losing streak against ranked teams.
“Regardless what our record is right now, we’ve got to focus and win the next two games. If we do that, we’re in the tournament. Your chances of winning the (Big 12) tournament aren’t big. It’s the best league in the nation and everyone going in doesn’t have the same chance to win. We’ve got to get these two games. These are the two most important games of the season right now, the next two games.”
Easier said than done, but it’s not easy to say what can happen the next few days, either.
I wondered in Sunday night’s vlog whether the WVU women’s team’s win earlier in the day against Baylor was the best in program history. I doubted whether it was, but I’m also one of those people who needs time to look and think things over and can’t put a label on things right away, which means in some manner I’m not suited for the way we are these days.
A few days later now, I’m still torn. I happen to think the unranked team winning at No. 2 Notre Dame in 2012 and ending the 21-game winning streak for a team that would play in a second straight national title game is really big. And not for nothing, but as far as building blocks go, that team had six players who helped beat Baylor and that team would end up winning 24 games, including one in the NCAA Tournament.
But who am I? What do we know? So I asked Mike Carey if that was his greatest win. He said yes, because of what it might mean later tonight.
“We’ve had some great wins for the program, but they weren’t necessarily for the conference championship,” Carey said. “I would say for having an opportunity to win a conference championship that this one is probably the best.”
We sparred a little, and he got the point. It’s great for him and for his program that it’s not an easy call.
“You’re glad you’re in that position,” he said. “You don’t want to be in a position where you get one big win and say, ‘This has got to be the biggest win we’ve ever had,’ because you’ve never had any others.”
Back to his original point: Sunday’s win is made even bigger if WVU wins tonight at home on Senior Night against sub.-500 Kansas. The Mountaineers and Baylor are tied atop the Big 12 standings. If both win, or lose, they are co-champions. If WVU wins and the Bears lose on the road against 20-win Iowa State, the Mountaineers have their first league title since 1989.