There just isn't that proven player that will make West Virginia fans comfortable heading into next year – at least there shouldn't be based on who's returning.
Yet, I had a much more negative perspective about next year's basketball team before I went into the locker room to talk to the players following the blowout to the Bulldogs.
When I asked freshman point guard Gary Browne a question about being surprised how disinterested WVU opened the game with, he let out some emotions.
"We knew they were good. We knew they would make open shots, but I didn't think they'd make every one of them," Browne said. "We just stopped playing. We play like two different teams. It's hard. We stopped playing … We've been practicing so hard on our days off, to let this happen for our state, for our staff, for our fans, it's an embarrassment … I'm really sorry for what happened today. Next season, I can promise that won't happen again." He didn't just say that, either. He said it with passion.
And, it was right there, in that locker room filled with a mish-mash of players with their shoulders shrugged and hearts broken, that I realized who the Mountaineers had to call their leader next year – Browne.
The sophomore-to-be has Joe Mazzulla-like qualities in terms of his effort and intensity. Sure, he gets beat off the dribble defensively worse than Mazzulla ever did, but you can bet that Browne will be working on his defensive quickness in the offseason.
West Virginia will need players other than Browne to step up, though. Fellow point guard Jabarie Hinds is going to have to step up and become a consistent option game-in and game-out.
The same can be said of forward Deniz Kilicli, who will be a senior and has yet to put together a span of more than five or so good games.
A player that I believe can and will make giant strides between his freshman and sophomore seasons is forward Keaton Miles. He can be a shutdown defender and has the potential to score on offense if he works on his shot.
There have been rumors about potential transfers, and we'll just have to wait to hear about that from school officials.
In the offseason, WVU must find leaders to replace Bryant and Jones. That's the primary goal for sure.
"It's going to hurt us a lot not having KJ and Truck," Browne said. "We just need to come together and realize that this is a family – our family, our staff, we're all a family. I need to know that we all have our backs."
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