It happens with every class, at every college across the country. Freshmen or junior college players arrive on campus with high expectations. A scant few become immediate stars. A few more become starters or role players. The vast majority are redshirted or relegated to the end of the bench while they learn their craft. Only those in the first group avoid the label of "bust" or "disappointment" from a segment of fandom (and in some cases, the media).
Such tags, as well as the expectations, are ludicrous. However, in today's microwave society, anything that doesn't produce immediate results is quickly jeered, ignored and pushed aside. That happened with Harris and Henderson as early as December this year, when the "can't shoot" sticker was applied as they and the Mountaineers struggled to score.
Those watching more closely, however, saw promise in the duo. Both were very competitive, and didn't back down from opponents. Both fought to adjust to the faster pace of the college game. Both learned how to blend their talents into the offensive systems of head coach Bob Huggins. And both, to varying degrees, are beginning to display the intensity necessary to play acceptable defense.
To be sure the process hasn't been quick, or steady, or painless. Improvement has come in fits and starts. Steps backward have been taken. Henderson has been slowed by back issues. But looking at the entire arc of the season, it's clear that both are a long way from where they started. They are now the most dependable shooters on the team, and are focal points of the perimeter offense.
'That's all great,' I hear you saying, 'but what does that have to do with football?' 'Plenty,' is my response. Although Dana Holgorsen did load up with nine junior college players to provide immediate help, it's not fair to similarly load that group up with unrealistic expectations. They, like Harris and Henderson, are going to have growing pains. Not all are going to be difference makers that earn a great deal of playing time. And of those that do, some won't hit the ground running in their first game as Mountaineers.
During assistant coach Lonnie Galloway's first stint at West Virginia, I had an interview with him about certain receivers being ready to play. There were a couple of young pass catchers that had been doing well in practice, but Galloway and the rest of the offensive staff weren't quite ready to turn them loose in games. The same sorts of problems that faced Harris and Hinds -- speed of the game, coolness under pressure -- weren't to the level they needed to be in order to allow them to be productive on the field. So, Galloway held them out until they were ready. In his view, that was better for their long-term development. By not overwhelming them right off the bat, they improved at a more steady pace, and when they did hit the field were in a better position to be productive players.
Of course, the fact that many of the football players under discussion are junior college players does throw a bit of a different slant on the 2013 football team. With one or two years of additional physical maturity, these players should be more prepared to compete more quickly. Indeed, if that doesn't happen, West Virginia is likely going to be faced with a very difficult season. It's just important to remember that each will progress at his own pace, and that the ones which aren't in the starting lineup shouldn't be stamped as disappointments, or worse. The same goes double for the true freshmen. Given time, many could follow the same sort of path that Harris and Henderson have with the basketball team.
UP NEXT: How do those junior college players fit in to West Virginia's potential 2013 lineup, and what are some reasonable expectations for them?