We’ve already covered the big men and the guards that will be contributing to this year’s West Virginia Mountaineers basketball campaign. What’s left are the wings. One or more members of this relatively small group will have to make a large stride forward if this hopes to make a run in the postseason.
Gone is Jonathan Holton. Jon was playing incredibly well last year before an unexpected 4 game suspension slowed his production. He finished the season having played 31 games and starting 20. He averaged nearly 9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in just over 23 minutes of action. His offensive rebounding, shooting percentage, and tremendous pressure at the top of the press are hard to replace. Let’s see who might step up to the plate.
The three wings on this season’s team are Esa Ahmad, Nathan Adrian, and Lamont West. Let’s take a look at each individually.
Esa Ahmad, 6’8/225, So
Esa came in last season as a highly touted, 4 star recruit. While he started 34 games, he had a relatively quiet freshman season. He averaged 4.9 ppg in 18.1 minutes per game. There were some flashes that the light was coming at various times. A few thunderous dunks and a 14 point performance against TCU come to mind.
There were also some rather sorry showings in which he only managed to stay on the floor for single digit minutes. Despite all this, Esa still started every game in which he appeared for WVU. That shows that at the very least, Coach Huggins has faith in his potential.
It is also rather common a player to see a huge jump in contribution from the first season to their second. The Mountaineers will certainly be looking for Esa to erase the lingering thoughts about a forgettable freshman campaign, and play like the exciting, long, talent he was projected to be.
Ahmad’s season could range anywhere from being the most improved player on the roster through whom much of the offense operates, or he could play similarly to last season and see his minutes eaten up by others yet again. Needless to say, Huggins is hoping for the former.
Nathan Adrian, 6’9/235, Sr
Morgantown High product Nathan Adrian follows in a line of West Virginia kids who leave it all on the floor for their state’s flagship university. Nate hustles all over the floor. He stepped up into the starting role that Holton vacated due to his suspension.
Nate finished the season averaging 4.5 ppg and 3.1 rpg in 18.1 minutes per game. He did correct some of his shooting woes from season’s past by averaging over 40% from distance. He does have trouble staying on the floor due to foul trouble.
At this point, I think that we all know what to expect from Adrian. Incremental improvements would go a long way to shoring up this team. He does not need to score the ball a ton or do anything tremendously special, but if he can minimize mistakes and foul trouble, stay on the floor a little more, and play like a senior who’s seen a lot in his four seasons in Morgantown, he will be tremendously valuable to this team.
Lamont West, 6’8/215, r-Fr
Lamont West is the biggest question mark on a unit that has its fair share. Lamont was something of a late blooming prospect who only really received major college interest after he moved from Cincinnati to Georgia prior to his Senior year. After something of a breakout season, Lamont became a late cycle signee to WVU with offers from Arkansas, St. John’s, Cincinnati, and Tennessee, among others.
The lanky red shirt freshman should benefit greatly from a year practicing and conditioning with the team. There should be little excuse for not understanding what Huggins requires of the players that want to get on the floor and what they will have to do once they get there.
He seems to have pretty good range, but creates most of his offense driving to the bucket and in transition. In this regard, while his length is a great asset, his slight build may be a tremendous liability. Only time will tell how many opportunities Lamont is afforded and what he will be able to make out of them this season.
What does it all mean?
Esa and Nate will definitely get more minutes than the 18.1 they each saw last season. What the team needs is increased production and efficiency. There seem to be very high hopes for Ahmad this season, and having a long, athletic scorer on the floor has never hurt a basketball team.
It will be very difficult for this unit to replicate the pressure on defense and the offensive rebounding that Holton brought to last years team. They will have to find a way to make up some for some of it and find other ways to contribute and stay on the floor.
While it’s never a sure bet to predict what Huggins will do at any given moment. I expect to see a starting lineup tonight of Daxter Miles, Jr., Jevon Carter, Esa Ahmad, Nathan Adrian, and Elijah Macon. I think anything else, at the start of the season at least, would be a pretty big surprise.
That lineup leaves Tarik Phillip in his role as bench spark, and pairs either Teyvon Myers or James Bailey (or maybe both? depending on foul trouble) with him in that regard. With some soft targets on the early schedule, it would be nice to see as many minutes as possible out of the newcomers and redshirts before we get anywhere close to the conference slate. Either way, this should be another fun iteration of #pressvirginia, that ought to be pretty easy to pull for.