Coming out of last season, I was convinced that both Lamont West and Esa Ahmad would be sure starters this year. I was excited about the length it would mean for the press and the potency it could mean for the offense having West opening up the floor for Jevon Carter and Ahmad to operate.
Then, over the summer, rumors started to circulate that Esa may be having trouble meeting NCAA eligibility requirements. In September, confirmation was given that Ahmad would indeed miss the first half of the 2017-2018 basketball season. With only 13 on the roster to begin with, WVU can barely afford to lose anyone, let alone an experienced starter. Coach Huggins will have to get by with some fresh faces for a little while.
Once again this year, the WVU basketball roster lists no centers. We decided to split the eight listed forwards up by the roles they play in the defense. The five featured players today will play in the top of the press and the three featured tomorrow will be anchoring the back line. Let’s get started.
Player Losses: Nate Adrian
Player Additions: D’Angelo Hunter, Wesley Harris, Teddy Allen
Nate Adrian will be very difficult to replace. That’s not a sentence I thought I’d be writing a couple years ago. He started all 37 games last year and averaged over 30 minutes each. He average 9.6 points per game, good for third on the squad behind Carter and Ahmad. He also led the team with six rebounds per game. Above all, he knew what he was supposed to do and when and didn’t make very many mistakes by the end of his career.
Between Nate and Esa, WVU will have to find a way to replace 54 minutes of playing time per game for the first half of the season. They only have one player with previous experience with which to do that. That’s not ideal. On to the players.
Lamont West, 6’8/230, So
Lamont will need to make a step up early in the season and help fill the gap left by Ahmad’s suspension. In his freshman season, Lamont showed signs that he will be a very good college basketball player for Coach Huggins. He appeared in all 37 games and logged nearly 12 minutes per contest. He averaged 5.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. He catches the ball with his feet set and has a one of the smoothest releases on his jump shot in recent memory.
West did have a few big games. West scored 23 points on 6-8 shooting from three against Texas and had 21 on 6-12 shooting from distance against Oklahoma State. This is the kind of offensive performance that WVU will need more often this season. West is the kind of player that can not only score some points, but the way that he can spread out opposing defenses, open up the floor, and shoot over defenders can have a lot more impact than what shows up in the box score. He is also a very good free throw shooter.
West looks to have put on a little bit of bulk in the offseason. This should help his defense, rebounding, and putting up with the rigors of a long season and likely considerably increased minutes. I’m anxious to see just how big a jump Lamont can make from his freshman year to his sophomore.
Best Case Scenario: West answers the bell against Texas A&M and never looks back. He seamlessly takes on his increased responsibilities and becomes a central focus of the offense. He shows improved toughness on the defensive end of the floor and consistently contributes on the glass. I am really looking for a break out year from Lamont West.
Esa Ahmad, 6’8/ 230, Jr
Ahmad was the player who I thought would make a huge jump last season in his sophomore year. In some ways, he did. He more than doubled his scoring production. He averaged 11.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per contest in about 24 minutes per game. He scored double figures 20 times and continues to cause havoc in the press with his length and giant hands.
Unfortunately, Esa won’t be available to help his team until the end of the calendar year, and at least one of the newcomers listed below will have to find a way to step up immediately and provide minutes. When he comes back, the Mountaineers will have plenty of opportunities in conference play, and with Kentucky coming to town, to flex their muscles for the tournament committee at full strength.
Hopefully Ahmad can seamlessly work his way back into the rotation when regains eligibility without too much rust. Only time will tell, and hopefully his absence early will mean increased opportunities for Coach Huggins to experiment and see what he has in the newcomers.
Best Case Scenario: Esa comes back in great shape and picks up where he left off last year. He continues to increase his production on both ends of the court and makes everyone forget that he ever missed any time. I’d say goals of somewhere around 15 and 8 are about right for Ahmad this year.
D’Angelo Hunter, 6’6/ 190, Jr
Hunter is a Louisville prospect who played Junior College ball at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. Rivals has him rated as a three star prospect. D’Angelo is pretty long and plays with a lot of energy. From looking at his JuCo tape, he appears to be a player who uses his handle to create space for his mid range jumper. He shakes, gets a step, and knocks down the jumper.
As a first year player for Huggins (and this will get repeated again for each of the others) the thing that will most dictate how much Hunter sees and stays on the floor will be defense. If he can utilize his length and motor to harass opponents and chip in a few rebounds, he will certainly get his chances. If he doesn’t, he won’t stay on the court for very long.
I’m going to consolidate the “best case scenario” for all three newcomers. Check out Hunter’s highlights.
Wesley Harris, 6’8/ 200, So
Wesley Harris has had a winding road to Morgantown. Harris played High School ball at Callaway High School in Jackson, Mississippi. He spent his freshman season at Northeast Mississippi. He averaged 18.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He shot nearly 40% from distance. Harris spent last season at Lawson State Community College in Birmingham, Alabama. An injury forced him to the sideline, which is why he arrived at WVU with three remaining years of eligibility. He too is listed as a three star recruit by Rivals.
Harris is long and athletic. His jumper looks smooth and it looks like he has the ability to play above the rim. This is going to sound repetitive, but Harris will absolutely get chances early and often to prove his mettle (I’ve said previously, I think that either Harris or Hunter will start against Texas A&M). His effort and defense will determine how long his opportunities are.
Teddy Allen, 6’5/225, Fr
Teddy Allen is yet another three star recruit in the 2017 recruiting class. He joins the Mountaineers from Boys Town High School in Boys Town, Nebraska. He was named Nebraska’s Gatorade Player of the Year, after averaging 31.6 points per game. Teddy recorded a quad double with 33 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists, and 11 steals against Wayne. He received offers from Iowa State and Virginia Tech, among others.
Allen is yet another long athletic basketball player. He has a 6’8 wingspan, big hands and is a bit bulkier than either Hunter or Harris. He too will get chances, and will have to make the most of them.
Best Case Scenario: One of these guys quickly becomes a reliable starter. Ideally more than one become immediate contributors. Depth will be an issue and Lamont West can’t do it all on his own. Two of these three have to find a way to add at least 10-15 minutes per game consistently, give great effort and knock down open shots. If they can do these things, WVU will find itself in position to win a whole lot of games. The Mountaineers need minutes, extra fouls, and hopefully a little spark from these guys. Anything more is icing on the cake.
Putting it All Together
Esa’s suspension hurts, but it cannot be changed and the Mountaineers will have to use the non-conference slate to break in the newcomers. Hopefully Lamont West steps up immediately in tomorrow’s game in Germany and eases the minds of the Mountaineer faithful. Then, WVU can try to turn a negative into a positive and use the available minutes to speed up the transition for three promising newcomers. That way, by the time Esa gets back on the floor, entering the Big 12 schedule, the team is considerably more experienced and deeper than it may have been otherwise.
Tomorrow is game day and tips off what should be a very exciting year for WVU basketball. We’ll wrap up the positional preview with the big guys that anchor the post for the Mountaineers.