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West Virginia Basketball: Building off this year’s success

Tarik Phillip, Daxter Miles, and Jaysean Paige  (Photo credit: Kelsie VanderWijst)
West Virginia underclassmen Tarik Phillip, Daxter Miles, and Jaysean Paige
(Photo credit: Kelsie VanderWijst)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–West Virginia’s basketball season ended with a 78-39 loss to Kentucky on Thursday night. As disappointing as the loss was, the season was far from a disappointment.

The Mountaineers accomplished more than most expected, finishing the season with a 25-10 record and advancing to the Sweet 16.

Much of the sentiment in the locker room after the season ended was that guards Gary Browne and Juwan Staten will no longer be around.

Browne sat in the corner of the locker room with a towel over his head and tears in his eyes. Staten embraced his coach and both players realized their careers in the old gold and blue were over.

Both seniors were integral members of the Mountaineers’ basketball team. They were leaders both on and off the court. Staten averaged 14.2 points per game and Browne averaged 6.9. And both were defensive contributors.

“They have been the heart and soul of the program,” sophomore Tarik Phillip said. “Juwan and Gary, I am lost for words, great leaders, great leaders. Gary is has been a great leader. Juwan, you know him off the court and on the court he does his thing.”

So where does West Virginia basketball go from here?

It can only go up. The Mountaineers return everyone except, Browne, Staten and Kevin Noreen. The Minnesota native Noreen never played a game this year because of a shoulder injury.

That means Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Jaysean Paige, Elijah Macon, Chase Connor, Brandon Watkins, Phillip, Nathan Adrian, Jonathan Holton, Billy Dee Williams and Devin Williams will all be back.

“This team’s pretty young. I think it’s an attribute to Juwan and Gary and Devin. They really were the three veteran guys. You look down the roster, this is Jon Holton’s first year, this is Daxter Miles’ first year, this is Jaysean Paige’s first year, Jevon Carter’s first year, Tarik Phillip’s first year, Elijah Macon’s first year, so we’ve got a lot of young, inexperienced guys that are only going to get better, and I think these three games of the tournament are going to make us better,” head coach Bob Huggins said.

Carter averaged 8.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.9 steals. The 6’2″ 185 lb Maywood, Ill. native was a solid defensive player in his freshman campaign. He forced turnovers from the opposition and stole passes. His defensive skills earned him All-Big 12 defensive honors.

Despite his struggles at the end of the season, Carter finished third on the team in scoring. His defense remained on point, even when he struggled offensively.

Miles had a solid season, minus his performance against Kentucky. He started all 35 games and as the season progressed he became an offensive threat. He finished the season shooting 19-of-38 from beyond-the-arc, which will definitely help the Mountaineers next season if the 6’3″ 185 lb guard can pick up where he left off.

Its Miles personality that can really help West Virginia next season. He is loud, confident and proud. With the loss of Browne and Staten, Miles could fill the void.

“They (Browne and Staten) taught me a lot,” said Miles. They taught me to stay in the gym, stay positive and to stay with God. They were great leaders. They just taught me how to work hard and stay positive with your teammates.”

The Mountaineers will also need Miles to become a more consistent scorer over the entire season, while maintaining his defensive toughness.

Phillip struggled at the beginning of the season. He was benched against TCU in Morgantown and saw limited action against Oklahoma State. But the 6’3″ 185 lb JUCO transfer came on strong in the post season.

Phillip was praised in the NCAA Tournament by Coach Huggins for his defensive abilities. Huggins said that he was the best on-ball defender.

It was Phillip’s key three that helped West Virginia knock off Buffalo in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The sophomore has to improve from beyond-the-arc and needs to turn the ball over less, but his improvement from start to finish was encouraging this season.

Paige had a season full of ups and downs during his first year in Morgantown. He averaged 5.6 points per game and was often foul-prone. The junior guard also made a lot of defensive mistakes and struggled with free throws. He shot 52 percent this season.

He needs to improve defensively, but the 6’2″ 200 lb Paige has shown glimpses of brightness. He scored a season-high 18 points in the Big 12 tournament against Baylor. Plus he has the ability to make threes.

Connor is not a big offensive threat for the Mountaineers. The 6’1″190 lb Shady Spring native’s role will probably be similar to this years.

Connor may not be the best on defense but he can hit threes. So look for the walk-on to come in when called upon to connect from three-point range.

After sitting out last year due to eligibility issues, Holton finally debuted for the Mountaineers this season. The 6’7″ 220 lb junior forward found himself in foul trouble frequently, but when he wasn’t in foul trouble, Holton was an asset.  He averaged 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds.

He led West Virginia in offensive rebounds. The Mountaineers were No. 1 in the nation in that category at 16.4 per game.

Holton’s teammates were impressed with his no-quit attitude. He brings energy and a positive attitude to the table.

“He’s a good guy,” said Miles Jr. “He keeps you motivated. You feel his energy.”

Early on in the season, he struggled shooting threes. Huggins told him at one point not to take another shot from there until he figured it out. As the season progressed, Holton figured it out. But Holton isn’t going to thrive from three-point range. He is a guy who can score around the goal.

Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst
West Virginia’s Jonathan Holton (Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst)

Holton is also a valuable defensive asset. He averages 1.2 steals a game. The Miami native is long and athletic. He deflects passes, causes havoc in traps and can grab rebounds.

Next season, Holton can be a real threat offensively and defensively if he can stay out of foul trouble and continue to grow at the Division I level.

Adrian really needs to step up his production for the Mountaineers next season. The sophomore forward endured a slump most of the year. After a freshman campaign where he averaged 5.4 points and hit key threes, the Morgantown native couldn’t find his groove.

He averaged 2.8 points and 2.5 rebounds a game this season. At one point Adrian missed 15-straight three-pointers. Despite his offensive struggles, 6’9″ 235 lb Adrian was defensively sound. He had more blocks and steals than last season. He also was better on the boards, grabbing 97 rebounds.

The shooting woes for West Virginia were a mainstay throughout the season. Hopefully, Adrian can get out of the sophomore slump he endured and find a consistent rhythm on the court.

Billy Dee Williams missed the first several weeks of the season with an eye injury.  Then the 6’6″ 215 lb junior forward never really saw significant playing time. He averaged just 7.3 minutes.

Williams has shown flashes of talent, but he really needs to put in the work in the gym and learn the defense. The junior has size and athleticism on his side.

While at South Plains Community College, the JUCO transfer averaged 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds in under 19 minutes of playing time. He was also a 40.5 percent shooter from three-point range.

Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst
Elijah Macon celebrates West Virginia’s 69-59 win over Maryland in the third round of the NCAA Tournament (Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst)

Macon averaged 4.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in his freshman campaign with West Virginia. The 6’9″ 240 lb forward has size and was an excellent rebounder.

Much like Macon, Watkins is an excellent rebounder. The 6’6″ 245 lb Decatur, Georgia native did not get much playing time this year due to illness and injury. He missed the first seven game of the season.

Watkins looked to be returning to form on Feb.11 against Kansas State. He scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds before injuring his knee. He would miss the next four games and get limited playing time the rest of the season.

Watkins will undergo knee surgery over the offseason and hopefully can be ready to go in the fall.

Devin Williams really emerged in his sophomore season at West Virginia. He averaged 11.6 points and 8.1 rebounds.

The 6’9″ 255 lb Williams pounds the boards consistently for the Mountaineers and was a crucial reason why West Virginia made it to the Sweet 16.

The Cincinnati native worked hard over the summer to get his asthma in check and become a better athlete. He plans on getting into the gym over the summer and continuing to improve.

“I am just going to tighten up stuff, just tightening up my skills, my tools,” Williams said. “It’s just about working on my craft and my jumper being money, getting my go to more. Just working on my craft, my shooting, my defense, just working on all parts of my game.”

West Virginia will likely look to Williams to lead the Mountaineers on and off the court next season. As the season progressed, it was apparent he was becoming a leader.

The Mountaineers will be joined by three highly touted newcomers next year, James “Beetle” Bolden, Teyvon Myers and Esa Ahmad.

The 6’0″ 160 lb Bolden comes from Covington, Ky. and passed the 2,000 point mark in his next-to-last high school game. ESPN has the point guards ranked as a four star recruit and Rivals has him a three star.

At 6’2″ 170 lbs, Myers was the nation’s highest scoring JUCO guard with 25.1 points per game. He shot 36 percent from beyond-the-arc and 85 percent from the foul line at Williston State Community College.

Ahmad has been labeled the “missing piece” for the West Virginia basketball program. The 6’8″ 218 lb Shaker Heights High star was named Ohio’s co-player of the year.  Ahmad averaged 25.3 points and 12 rebounds and was the top Northeast Ohio player on the Division I All-Ohio team.

“We’ve got a lot of young, inexperienced guys that are only going to get better, and I think these three games of the tournament are going to make us better,” Huggins said. “We’ll be more seasoned a year from now.”

While Mountaineers’ fans might have been disappointed in how this season ended, the future looks bright for West Virginia basketball.


Edited by Michael Walker

Shanna Rose
WVU Graduate with a bachelor's in journalism and multimedia journalist. Sports Fan and sports writer. Former WVU News reporter. Contact Shanna on Twitter @SMR1837
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