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Huggins expects point guard Staten to fuel WVU resurgence

By Jon Rothstein | CBS Sports

West Virginia point guard Juwan Staten will assume a leadership role in 2013-14.(USATSI)
West Virginia point guard Juwan Staten will assume a leadership role in 2013-14. (USATSI)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bob Huggins didn't hesitate.

On the heels of what he admitted was the most difficult season in his legendary career, West Virginia's veteran coach immediately pointed out the reason why he thinks the group he's about to coach this season will be better than the unit that finished 13-19 a year ago.

Juwan Staten.

"He's been our best player by a landslide," Huggins said of Staten, the 6-1 guard who averaged 7.6 points per game last season. "By a landslide. At both ends. I think he engulfed himself into learning what we want done."

After spending the first year of his college career at Dayton, Staten came to Morgantown and last season split time in the backcourt with Jabarie Hinds, who has since transferred to UMass. Now with a year of seasoning under his belt, Staten will have the keys to the car in the Mountaineers' backcourt.

"He's been doing more individual workout stuff and watching film," Huggins said of Staten. "If you're going to have the ball as much as he's going to have the ball, you're going to have to know what other people do and what to look for. He's really trying."

Next to Staten will be veteran guard Gary Browne, who Huggins said has been West Virginia's best shooter, along with promising sophomores Terry Henderson and Eron Harris. Both Henderson and Harris will be counted on to make open shots after they produced solid freshman seasons a year ago that saw each of them average better than eight points per game.

The Mountaineers' frontcourt is a bit of a work in progress. Freshman Devin Williams was a consensus Top 50 prospect out of high school and will make an immediate contribution. Another first-year forward, Elijah Macon, wasn't ruled eligible to play by the NCAA and and Huggins said he's still waiting to hear the eligibility status of junior college transfer Jonathan Holton. Veteran Kevin Noreen knows the system and should be able to be plugged into either spot.

Two newcomers -- freshman Nathan Adrian and junior college transfer Remi Dibo should allow West Virginia to be more skilled at the power forward spot, something the coach said was pivotal if they were going to have success in the Big 12.

"The Big East was a grind-it-out, physical conference," Huggins said. "The Big 12's not like that. It's a skill league. We needed more guys who could make shots because the way the league is officiated you have to be skilled. We know what to expect now."

The Mountaineers program is clearly in a better place now than it was entering last season. West Virginia seems to have better role allocation than it did a year ago, partially because players such as Hinds, Aaron Brown (transferred to Saint Joseph's) and Aaric Murray (dismissed, now at Texas Southern) have left the program.

"I like all those guys personally," Huggins said. "They're all good guys. Things just didn't fit last year."

There's also no longer an adjustment period with the Big 12. Huggins has had a season to get a feel for the league, its different styles, and understand what it's going to be like to travel far distances each time his team plays a game away from Morgantown.

"We know what to expect now," Huggins said of the league. "I know I do."

With that said, West Virginia still doesn't appear to be "back" -- but they could be on their way. The nucleus of players on the Mountaineers' roster should all be together for the next few years and if Staten can play at the level he has in the preseason when games start, West Virginia will finally have a player they can lean on at the most important position on the floor.

When asked if he liked the current state of his program, Huggins put his hand on chin, thought for a second, and then nodded.

"We're so young, but I think so," Huggins added. "I think we're going to be a really good a year from now. Not just good, but really good."

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