The West Virginia Mountaineer Basketball Program is entering its 110th season and 116th year overall, dating back to 1903. WVU ranks 22nd all-time in wins among division one schools with a 1,756-1,079 record.
Head coach Bob Huggins is 255-33 during his 11 years in Morgantown, and has led the Mountaineers to one NIT and nine NCAA appearances, including a Final Four.
West Virginia is coming into the season ranked 13th in the country and return seven players from a Sweet 16 team a year ago. There are seven new faces within this year’s edition of Press Virginia, also Brandon Knapper who had to sit out last season because of an injury.
With the graduation of standouts Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, who led this Press Virginia style of defense, there were questions whether or not the Mountaineers would be able to play their full court press they fans have come accustomed to over the last four seasons.
“I think we have to.” Said Huggins “That’s kind of what we’ve recruited to. We have the best shot blocker in the country in the back of it, which helps considerably.”
This team has been battling injuries all off-season that carried over into the start of practice. “We’ve been just so banged up.” Explained Huggins. “I’ve never had this many guys banged up. It’s a good thing we have 15 guys.”
Sagaba Konate, James Bolden, Andrew Gordon, Derek Culver, Trey Doomes Lamont West and Chase Harler have missed some practice due to injuries.
Before the Gold and Blue debut, Huggins addressed the crowd, and told every one that this team has a chance. He believes this team is talented enough to compete in the Big 12, but they will need to continue to learn if they want to have success.
2018-19 West Virginia Mountaineer Roster
Esa Ahmad – Senior (6-8, 225-lbs) Forward
Esa looks like a different player coming into this season. He’s leaner and in the best shape of his career. Ahmad struggled to get into rhythm last season after sitting half of the year due to a suspension. Now he’s ready to take on the role as a leader and guide this team to their 5th straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Mountaineer fans have seen flashes of greatness from Esa and particularly against Kansas. His career high (27) was against the Jayhawks during his sophomore season. He recorded his first double-doubles of his career in the Big 12 Tournament last year and is looking to be more consistent as an all-around player in his senior season.
“Esa’s not a big jumper. He’s not exceptionally quick or fast, but he really knows how to play.” Described Huggins. “His best games are really when he plays without the ball. He understands how to use screens. He understands how to take advantage of defenders and break them down. He’s got those huge hand, so he doesn’t fumble balls and can rebound out of his area because of those huge hands.
James “Beetle” Bolden – Junior (6-0, 175-lbs) Guard
Beetle has been battling injuries throughout his whole career at WVU. He’s been limited in and has had to sit out of the majority practices thus far, due to, in what Huggins describes as “stretched ligaments” in his hand.
He earned playing time last year by hustling and playing tough defense. It created opportunities offensively and shot over 50% from behind the arc.
In the off-season, Bolden has taken on leadership responsibility.
Chase Harler – Junior (6-3, 210-lbs) Guard
Chase is coming into his third season in the program and appears to be more than just a spot up shooter early on. He’s putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket.
Harler hasn’t seen a lot of time on the floor over in his first two years; however, that was due to in large part of having Carter and Miles in front of him. He’s always been able to shoot, but has.t been able to put it all together to get playing time. It seems its starting to click for the West Virginia native.
“He’s playing really well. He should have confidence he’s certainly played well enough to have confidence.” Said Huggins. “I think he’s more comfortable in what we do.”
Wesley Harris – Junior (6-8, 200-lbs) Forward
Harris started all 32 games in his first season in the program last year. He mad some clutch shots throughout the season against some big opponents and appears to have improve his shooting from last season.
He was atop of the press last season, creating turnovers and had 22 steals on the year. “Wes wasn’t great on the ball but Wes was good when they threw it back to the guards cause Wes could sit and stay in front of a guard.”
Sagaba Konate – Junior (6-8, 250-lbs) Forward
Huggs has dubbed Sags as the best shot blocker in the country. He was 2nd in the country in 2017-18 in blocked shots with 116.
Konate had a mid-range game last year and in the off-season has extend his range outside the three-point line.
“Ideally you want to run things through him.” said Huggins. “If you can run things through him, cause he can make open shots, and if he can deliver the ball, now you’ve drawn a big away from the basket. You don’t just have to shoot it to draw a big away from the basket, if you can pass it. He’s gotten worlds better really at everything. Maybe shot blocking he hasn’t, but I think he’s rebounding better. It’s a little harder to rebound it practice now, cause Derek and Drew are pretty big guys. He’s doing well.”
Logan Routt – Junior (6-11, 260-lbs) Forward
Although Routt struggled at time, he stepped up and played during some crucial moments last season and made some big plays.
Huggins said he has improved in the off-season and a lot of that has to do with confidence.
Lamont West – Junior (6-8, 22-lbs) Forward
Lamont can fill up a stat sheet quick. He recorded his career high against Texas last season with 23 points. He’s near automatic when left open.
“Lamonts trying to guard. he didn’t know there was that end of the floor.” Said Huggins. “He’s trying to be a much more well-rounded player. He’s scoring in the post a little bit with mismatches, which he didn’t do. He was pretty much strictly a jumps shooter, although he’s still really good at that. He’s expanded his game really at both end of the floor.”
FIRST YEAR PLAYERS
Derek Culver – Freshman (6-10, 255-lbs) Forward
Culver attended Brewster Academy Brewster in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire in 2017-18. He averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds per game. A first team NEPSAC Class AAA selection.
Derek is expected to be at the top of the press. “Derek Culver could be the best guy we’ve ever had on the ball.” Boasted Huggins. “He’s big, he’s athletic, long. He’s better than the two guys we had on the ball a year ago. The question is can we play him and Sags at the same time or a combination of him and Logan Routt at the same time. He’s good in the press and he’s got good feet.”
Trey Doomes – Freshman (6-3, 175-lbs) Guard
Doomes attended University School out of Ft, Lauderdale. In his senior year, he led University with 26 points to their first ever class 5A state championship. Trey averaged 19.6 points and six assists on the season.
Andrew Gordon – Sophomore (6-9, 255-lbs) Forward
Andrew comes from Northwest Florida State Community College. He sat out last season due to a knee injury. As a freshman, Gordon averaged 3.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. In his senior season at Dunedin High School, he led his team to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and won their first post-season game since 1968.
“I call him three-minute Drew.” Said Huggins “He goes like hell for three minutes and then, he kind of gets tired. He’ll have three minutes he’ll get every rebound. That’s hard to do when you got Derek, Sags and Logan there.”
Jermaine Haley – Junior (6-7, 215-lbs) Guard
Jermaine started his college career at New Mexico State. As a freshman, he started 15 of the 31 games. Then transferred to Odessa College in Texas where he averaged 10.2 points, 5.6 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game. Was named to the Western Junior College Athletic Conference First Team and Co-Defensive Player of the year.
Taevon Horton – Freshman (6-1, 190-lbs) Guard
West Virginia native Taevon Horton was invited as a walk-on. He led Fairmont Senior to a 25-1 record in his senior season averaging 19.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 rebounds. Also, helped the Polar Bears to a Class AA title his Junior year.
Brandon Knapper – Redshirt Freshman (6-0, 180-lbs) Guard
Brandon was redshirted last year during his freshman season due to a knee injury. Knapper attended Hargrave Military Academy in 2016-17. He helped lead the team win 43 games and to the National Final Four, averaging 18 points and 3.1 assists per game.
Emmitt Mathews Jr – Freshman (6-7, 195-lbs) Forward
Coming out of Tacoma, Washington, Emmitt led his Woodrow Wilson deep into the state playoff for three consecutive seasons. He averaged 22.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2,4 assists and 2.3 blocks and was the News Tribunes All-Area Player of the Year in his senior season.
Jordan McCabe – Freshman (6-0, 183-lbs) Guard
McCabe comes to Morgantown as Wisconsin’s Mr. Basketball. He led Kaukauna High School to a state championship, scoring the final eight points to lead his team to the 76-74 win. Jordan averaged 26.7 points and 7.8 assists per game.
“My message to Jordan has been, make the game easy. You don’t have to make a spectacular pass when all you have to do is throw the ball to somebody. There’s nothing wrong with making spectacular passes if that’s what is called for. He’s coachable. He listens.”