MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Last year around this time there were rumors on both sides about Devin Williams. Some said Williams would be leaving to play overseas and others shot down that notion saying that “goggles guy” would return to the West Virginia basketball team for his senior campaign.
Well, it turned out the rumors were correct as Williams skipped his final year of eligibility to play professionally.
This year, those same rumors started floating around about junior center Elijah Macon. Macon, a 24-year old with one year of eligibility left, flourished down the stretch last season and gave the Mountaineers an inside, back-to-the basket type of player they had not seen in a while. In the final 12 games of last year’s Sweet 16 team, the Ohio native averaged 9.6 points and 6.5 rebounds while also shooting 57 percent from the field.
On Tuesday, May 23rd, Macon announced on social media that he would hire an agent and go play somewhere professionally and forego his senior year in Morgantown.
Not only will the Mountaineers miss those numbers, they will also hate to lose the positivity that Macon brought to every game. He was known for being a very nice guy on and off the court and never let his teammates get down on themselves.
So, fans are now asking, “what’s next for Bob Huggins’ squad underneath?
The simple answer is improvement from a couple of current players and the eligibility of incoming freshman Derek Culver.
Of those current members, the first name that will jump out is Sagaba Konate, and the sophomore to be literally jumps out while on the court as well.
Konate, 6’8”, 250 pounds, had an incredible first year for WVU. From his thunderous dunks to his signature “sag wag” after a blocked shot, he was an immediate fan favorite and his teammates embraced him quickly as well.
But even with the potential of a rising star, something Konate will need to improve on is staying out of foul trouble. Now, some of that foul trouble is on the horrendous officiating that is college basketball where more calls than not leave you scratching your head and screaming at the TV but the fact is that Konate averaged 2.1 fouls per game in 10 minutes of play. That is four fouls in one half, basically. He did, however, have 53 blocks and averaged 16.4 ppg and 11.2 rpg per 40 minutes. But to reach those eye popping numbers he will need to find a way to stay on the floor longer, and with Macon now gone, he will have no choice but to do so.
Maciej Bender is next in line for stepping up his game.
Bender’s numbers are not going to stand out from his 2017 freshman year (6.4 minutes per game, 1.6 ppg), but that word, potential, floats around the Polish big man quite frequently. In his limited action last season, he displayed glimpses of what he could possibly be in the near future. He moved his feet well at the top of the press, he blocked a few shots and even had a couple nice dunks to show that he will be a force to be reckoned with when needed.
And now he is needed in a big way.
Finally, that brings us to Culver. The big four-star, top 75 player from Ohio that was Huggins’ biggest “get” of the incoming recruiting class. Culver is a legit 6’10” with long arms and explosive athleticism. He needs to add weight, but he has the frame to do that. In Beckley at the Scott Brown Memorial Classic, Culver won the pregame slam dunk contest. When the game started, his team won the tip and got possession of the ball. They passed it to Culver on the right wing and he was being guarded by a Marshall recruit. Culver faked left, then exploded off the dribble to the right and threw down a beautiful two-handed slam that brought the crowd to its feet. It was a thing of beauty.
However, the knock on Culver is sometimes he gets a little sluggish and may not give 100 percent effort. In Beckley, I saw that exact concern. But in my opinion, after that first move he decided he was better than anyone on the floor and did not show much interest after that.
There are also rumblings about him not qualifying—he was kicked off of his high school team last year– and if that happens to be the case, then that could seriously be the difference between a great team in 2017-18 for WVU and a good team. But Culver has said himself he is enrolling in early June and there is a decent amount of confidence within the program that he will. So that is a wait-and-see game.
The bottom line is if Konate and Bender improve like they are capable and Culver arrives with a great energy and determination to be great, the loss of Macon will sting a lot less.
Either way, Huggins will get the most out of his big guys as he has done for years and West Virginia will be a prominent team again.
Cover Photo Credit: Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports