In our first look at the chemistry issues facing some of West Virginia's teams, we discussed the overall challenges for the football and men's basketball teams. In this detailed case study, we examine two players who will be in the basketball spotlight this fall.
A year ago, the issues surrounding the basketball team were plain to see. The newcomers didn't exactly mesh well with some of the returnees. Some upperclassmen were only out for themselves, while others didn't exactly shine in the leadership department. Only some of the players put in any extra gym time, and communication between some of the less-dedicated squad members was almost nil.
Freshmen Terry Henderson and Eron Harris were thrust into this toxic mix, and faced an almost insurmountable task. On a team crying out for leadership, they, as first year players, were not in a good position to make themselves heard. Some veterans, such as Kevin Noreen, gave it their best effort, but nothing clicked team-wide. As a result, the Mountaineers failed to make the NCAA tournament and suffered through a season that could best be described as mediocre or lost.
To their credit, neither Haarris nore Henderson complained, at least publicly. Neither called out other teammates, even though their frustration was evident at times. This year, however, both promise things will be different.
"It doesn't have anything to do with basketball," Harris said of the changes that have to occur on the team. "It's about becoming an all-around person. It's about doing the right things when nobody is looking going to class and study hall on time."
Henderson is on the same track, but applies that thinking to the court.
"You have to come in every day with a working mentality," he said. "There are no days off. If you are doing that, you can get better. You get out of it what you put in to it."
None of this is any secret, of course. Given Bob Huggins post game dissertations of a year ago, it wasn't hard to figure out that every member of the team wasn't all in. Unfortunately, many of those players in the position to lead either weren't heard or weren't equipped to do so.
After going through that mess in their initial seasons, both sophomores are determined to avoid a repeat. Whether or not second year players can make their voices be heard, and make followers out of juniors and seniors remains to be seen, but it won't be for a lack of trying.
"Having gone through a year of that, my best advice [to the newcomers] is to keep fighting through the ups and the downs. When it gets hard for everybody it's not just hard for you," Harris said. "A lot of the coaches have talked to me about this when it felt like I was breaking down, and they told me to just keep going. Everybody has those tough times."
"I'll give them some advice eventually," Henderson added. They just have to keep working. I just want to get the whole summer process over and get straight to October. We are going to have a young team, but it's going to be an exciting one."
With a full complement of newcomers, there will be many players to impart this wisdom to, but in the end, it's going to be on them to make the decisions to put in extra work and play the game they way Huggins wants it to be played. It won't be perfect right off the bat, but if the effort is there, the team has a chance to enjoy success -- and at least make it back to the NCAA tournament.
"I think the newcomers are exactly what we need," Henderson said. "We have some guys that can bang on the boards and some guys that are athletic."
Again, though, it's about working every day, and maximizing time and effort, that comes first. Harris knows this, and has been working hard on everything he can over the summer. In addition to getting in some time as a point guard, he's been a weight room regular.
"It's been strength and speed and quickness," he said of his summer routine. "We have been lifting every day. I want to get up to around 195-200 pounds." (He played at 180 last year).
Buy-in from the upperclassmen is also vital. There's no doubt that Kevin Noreen is in, and Aaric Murray has, in his public tweets, at least been commenting on doing work. If he and Juwan Staten are on board and also providing good examples, this this team could change its chemistry grade of "F" from a year ago to something much more acceptable. But even if all of the returnees are showing the way, the ultimate responsibility is still on each newcomer.
"I kind of had to figure some of this out on my own last year. Terry and I both did," Harris said, implying that lack of leadership from some last year's team members. "But even if people tell you it's something that you have to go through yourself. You have to learn it on your own."