Upward Trajectory

Upward Trajectory

There seems a sense of despair suddenly hanging over the West Virginia basketball program, as though this recent skid and first-round NCAA Tournament exit is as good as it gets.

Fait accompli has apparently shown itself, the toppling dominoes initiated. And when this is considered, it might be wise to utilize the Jack Nicholson quote in the movie of same name and take away reason and accountability.

Because that's the only way one could reach that conclusion. Mother Hubbard has been particularly unkind to the Mountaineers at times, no recruiting class a better example than the Great Implosion of 2010. A four-star point guard, gone. A legit center threat, one that at least gave size and toughness, out. Of the four players signed, only Kevin Noreen has ever played a second for WVU, and he's suffered injuries throughout his career. It was essentially a total wash thus far.

There were health issues, transcript issues, personal issues. Perhaps no class in West Virginia history has had so much promise and yet accomplished so little with so many players never even seeing game time. And that, on the back of two departures from the 2009 class in Dalton Pepper and Dan Jennings, made for as difficult a two-year stretch as can be recently recalled.

Losses like that are most felt a few seasons later, and this one was the stinger. This pattern won't hold. It's an aberration. And yet West Virginia won 19 games, reached the NCAA Tournament as a 10-seed and defeated a handful of very solid nonconference foes before simply hitting the proverbial wall. It peaked too early – but that doesn't mean it was a peek into the future.

With respect to some expressed opinions, this cupboard is hardly bare. The coaching staff secured the transfer of four-star talents Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten. These are high-level players at perhaps two of the most needed positions in center and point guard, respectively. Murray adds instant size and athleticism, a 6-10, 240-pounder who can run the floor, defend, rebound and put the ball on the deck and attack the rim. There's length, there's power and there's physicality there in droves. The kid's legit, and he will add a dimension missing since Devin Ebanks departure.

Staten is an explosive one with a 40-inch vertical. He led the Atlantic-10 in assists, a passer with an ability to score that was largely harnessed in his last role – though he didn't shoot incredibly well from 3-point range. Enter potential new shooting guard starter Terry Henderson. The 6-3, 150-pounder from Raleigh can fill it up from the outside and gives the Mountaineers an outside threat it badly needed this year. He's smooth, he sees the floor effectively and he was the guy assistant Jerrod Calhoun sealed.

Then toss in another four-star player, one of the best dozen power forwards in the nation in 6-8, 210-pound Elijah Macon. This is another dose of athleticism, a threat to score from 18 feet in and get up and down the floor. If the mantra is that shooters can learn to play defense, this kid will be just fine under Bob Huggins' direction.

Those newcomers, added to pure point player Jabarie Hinds, the developing Gary Browne, Dominique Rutledge and Aaron Brown and the bulk of Deniz Kilicli, and this team has the elements to be improved over this year's 19-win squad that did it against a solid schedule. Frankly, the Big 12 isn't the grinder the Big East is on a night-in and –out basis, and thinking there will be a drop-off in level of play seems errant.

Huggins is too good a coach, with too great a history and too many adept, athletic, now-available players to even fathom that the Ides of March were a potential high point moving forward. It's almost not even a legit consideration, this somehow anticipated downhill slide into mediocrity. West Virginia's a name under Huggins. Paraphrasing the ol' ball coach, they might not be Kentucky. But they ain't DePaul, either.

The players are there, the coaching is there. The best practice facility in the nation is there. There's work to be done, sure. And it will be. But the table's being set, and set well. This program will have a different look next season. And it will continue to grow. Others might fret. I like where we're going. Upward trajectory, baby. One could get a fat head just thinking about it. So chill out. Have a beer or somethin'.

And prepare to win.

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