Before the Gold-Blue Debut began, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said, “Press Virginia is alive and well.” Huggins concluded his pregame speech by saying, “We’ve got a chance.” That line sparked cheers in the WVU Coliseum, as it reassured the fans in attendance that Mountaineer basketball will move on after losing the legendary Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, Jr. at the conclusion of last season.
What Press Virginia Loses Defensively
The two key losses for WVU over the offseason were guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, Jr., who both graduated and have moved on to the NBA. Carter and Miles were both crucial to the success of the Mountaineers’ press last season and in previous years.
Carter was key in helping propel Press Virginia to a new level of intensity to turn Morgantown into “Steal City,” and he will likely go down as one of the greatest Mountaineers of all time. He was a Second Team Consensus All-American last season, the Big 12 Conference and NABC Defensive Player of the Year during his last two seasons, and he was also named to the All-Big 12 Defensive Team in all four of his years at WVU. Carter also finished as the all-time leader in steals in school history with 330 career steals, including 112 last season, which led the nation.
Miles also collected a multitude of steals during his career totaling 177, which is the ninth most in school history. Miles also had 47 steals during his last season, which was second only to Carter.
Carter and Miles collected 159 of WVU’s 301 steals last season, which leaves a huge gap in the Press Virginia scheme. The two guards also provided a boost defensively in other ways such as deflections, traps, effort, and experience. Luckily Huggins will not have to replace the duo with entirely new players, but a majority of the guards are newcomers.
What Press Virginia Keeps Defensively
WVU is bringing back the best shot blocker in all of college basketball this season in junior Sagaba Konate. If you need proof of Konate’s shot blocking ability, check out this highlight tape of all 116 blocks he had last season.
Those 116 blocks for Konate were the second most by any player in the country last year. That total also exceeded the amount of steals that Carter had for the Mountaineers last season (112). Konate is currently third in school history with 169 career blocks and he will likely break the record this season, which is currently set at 190.
Many of Konate’s blocks could also be considered equivalent to steals when he is able to grab the shot out of the air to instantly gain possession for the Mountaineers. This means that he not only prevents the other team from scoring, but he can also force turnovers and provide huge energy boosts with his blocks. With Konate returning as the rim protector in the back of the press, it opens up more opportunities for others to potentially gamble on steals and traps. He will also provide energy, experience, and hopefully leadership for the team throughout the season.
James “Beetle” Bolden looks like he will likely compete for one of the spots to replace Carter and Miles. Bolden has experience pressing, and he has also been successful at it. Last season he collected 34 steals, which was the third most on the team behind Carter and Miles. He is also one of the fastest players for WVU, and that speed helps him get into position to take charges. Bolden’s ability to take charges could be a game changer for the Mountaineers. Taking a charge not only forces a turnover, but it also provides momentum for the team.
Press Virginia is also returning a few experienced players that provide length in the press. Last season Wesley Harris, Esa Ahmad, and Lamont West all provided length for WVU. The three forwards also combined for 56 steals and countless traps and deflections. They will all likely be in rotation on the ball and in trapping positions in the press.
What Press Virginia Gains Defensively
One thing that stood out in the Gold-Blue Debut was not the flashy plays by true freshman Jordan McCabe, but his effort defensively. McCabe was able to force steals and deflections in the scrimmage, some of which led to fast breaks and alley-oops on the other end of the court. On his way to a high school state championship last year in Wisconsin, McCabe was able to collect 38 steals in his senior season. The WVU coaching staff has already praised the young point guard’s basketball IQ, and it appears that McCabe also knows that in order to make the highlight plays on the offensive end, he will first have to make the tough plays on the defensive end.
Another newcomer at the point guard position is redshirt-freshman Brandon Knapper. Knapper is not entirely new to the program, as he was part of the team last year, but had to redshirt due to his right knee injury prior to the start of the season. Hopefully Knapper paid close attention while he was sidelined, so he is one less newcomer that needs to be taught the concepts of the Press Virginia scheme.
Press Virginia will also add length and rim protecting depth with freshman Derek Culver and sophomore Andrew Gordon. Coach Huggins has said that Culver could be a good fit on the ball in the press because of his ability to deflect passes, and Huggins has also said that Culver might be the fastest player on the team, which means he will be able to recover if the press is broken.
There are still a lot of spots to be filled and questions to be answered when this season begins for the Mountaineers, but one thing is certain: “Press Virginia is alive and well.”