An underlying question has seemed to float throughout the West Virginia University basketball fanbase since this past April, asking: Why did Sagaba Konate decide to declare for the NBA so early?
Did he leave because he didn’t appreciate his role in the program? Did he recognize that powerhouse freshman Oscar Tshiebwe was going to arrive soon in Morgantown? Is he even ready for professional basketball? Who knows. What is evident, however, is the following: Konate left for not only his future but for the basketball team’s future, as well.
At the beginning of last season, before Konate suffered an injury, it was evident that he improved his offensive game and was still a force to be reconciled with on the defensive end. His mid-range and 3-point jumper looked much smoother and fluent. He was playing better in the post. His footwork was much better; thus, he was more mobile on the block. Konate’s play at the beginning of last season essentially displayed one obvious thing to the basketball world: He worked extremely hard and diligently on his craft all through the prior off-season.
Then, all of a sudden, the treacherous news was announced: Konate will miss two to four weeks due to a knee injury; an injury which may go down as one of the most impactful injuries on the Mountaineer basketball program since Da’Sean Butler blew out his knee in the Final Four against Duke, which ultimately led to a WVU loss.
In essence, Konate having to sit out the entire season provided head coach Bob Huggins and the team with the following: unnecessary losses, hardship, stagnation, and a multitude of lessons learned.
By the time the team’s season concluded, they left the Mountaineer fanbase curious about two matters: the way next season will play out and if whether or not Konate was going to come back for his senior season.
In the beginning and the middle of the 2018-19 regular season, many threw the team under the bus as if they’ll never win a substantial amount of games. In the end, especially after a big win against Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament, the team left everyone in the basketball sphere curious about their potential as a unit and the newcomers who’d soon join them; especially, big man Tshiebwe.
In addition to that, Konate left Mountaineer fans wondering if whether or not he was going to come back for his senior season. Nevertheless, at the end of last April, however, their wonder no longer was as such; instead, it was a reality: Konate will not come back to play his senior season at WVU, and will indeed declare for the NBA draft.
Albeit, Konate helped the team tremendously. With that said, will his absence genuinely negatively affect the team?
The answer is simple: No, not in even the scantiest of ways.
Let’s be real: A frontcourt comprising of Konate, Tshiebwe, and Derek Culver wouldn’t work well.
Tshiebwe, a 6-foot-9, five-star, big man who ranked as the No. 21 prospect and sixth-ranked center in the class of 2019 is a physical force, especially in the interior. When he backs down in the post, not only does he have above average footwork but Tshiebwe also has a high-percentage turnaround shot. During his senior season of high school, and even when he played in the McDonald’s All-American game, he rebounded the ball abnormally well. Tshiebwe is the type of basketball player that Huggins enjoys the most and he’ll do well under the basket for the team.
Along with freshman Tshiebwe, Culver is also a force in the interior. He’s attentive, energetic, and, in regards to his athleticism, a freak of nature. Last season, Culver racked up multiple double-doubles and quickly emerged as the team’s best player. Although he only played during the second half of the season, Culver still managed to get voted on to the Coaches All-Conference Second Team.
When you consider the utter dominance of both Tshiebwe and Culver, how would you work all three talented big men into the same rotation? The answer is this: you either bench one or start all three of them.
Konate understood that. He also realized that he was no longer the best player, let alone the best big man, on the Mountaineers team. He recognized that a new era in WVU basketball was approaching and that he’d have to accept a different role in the group.
Lastly, Konate recognized how good of a player and leader Culver is and he also knew an absolute beast, Tshiebwe, was going to arrive in Morgantown soon. With these circumstances in mind, he did an unselfish deed, finally deciding to take his talents professionally. As a result, he got signed by the Toronto Raptors, and will surely make an impact in the league. While he’s doing that this upcoming season, the Mountaineers will be taking the Big 12 Conference, possibly even the nation, by storm. For these reasons, it’s safe to say Konate left WVU early not only to better his future but to better the future of the basketball program, as well.
Cover Photo Credit: Shanna Rose, BGS