Staten, Browne emerging as leaders for WVU

Throughout Bob Huggins' coaching career, there has been a pattern that has developed.

As players grow and become more mature, gaining more experience, leaders emerge. Then when those leaders graduate, the cycle continues and another group of upperclassmen take the reigns.

It's been a major reason for the success Huggins has had during his stints at schools like Cincinnati, Kansas State and now as he prepares to enter his eighth season as the head coach at West Virginia.

But over the last two seasons, something changed. West Virginia missed out on the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons - the first time a team coached by Huggins has missed the tournament in back-to-back years since his first two seasons at Cincinnati in 1990 and 1991 - and while last season Huggins said it was due to issues with depth and injuries, there was also a problem the year before with leadership. The Mountaineers were a game above .500 a year ago, finishing 17-16, after an abysmal 13-19 campaign the season before, a year that stands out as a major outlier to the veteran head coach.

"(The team) will be as good or as bad as what they make it. I've always been very fortunate to have people step up. You go down through the years and you can see those people who have wanted to step up," Huggins said. "We had a spell where our seniors didn't want to be (leaders), and that's very rare for me to have.

"We're back now to where that's not an issue. It's a responsibility that you have to want."

For the second year in a row, Juwan Staten and Gary Browne will be among the ones who take on the bulk of that leadership role.

As juniors a year ago on a team without any seniors, the two point guards started to assume those responsibilities and lead the way. But with a backcourt full of new faces, including two freshmen and three junior college transfers, and with some of the departures from last year's team, it became more important than ever for the two of them to step up and be that leader Huggins needs them to be heading into their senior seasons.

"It just comes naturally at this point," Browne said. "When you have experience, it's your job to teach the new guys what to do and what to expect and to follow your lead. When you have a bunch of young guys who don't know, I can tell you from experience of coming in here with seven freshmen, we were all going back and forth to the treadmill all the time because we were messing up and didn't know what we were doing wrong. Now that we're older guys, we can lead the way like that for them and make them more relaxed."

Both have been around the program for a while now. Staten, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, battled through adversity and bounced back from a difficult sophomore season to emerge as one of the top point guards in the country a year ago while Browne has played a significant role for the Mountaineers for four seasons and is the only player currently on the roster who has played in an NCAA tournament game.

"He's set the tone for how hard we're going to play," Huggins said of Browne. "He knows what he's doing and he's probably put more time in the gym than he ever has. I think he's starting to realize that this is it."

Staten and Browne have both led the way with their work ethic, putting in tireless hours in the gym over the summer to improve on what they struggled with last season. But the biggest difference Huggins has seen has been the willingness to do anything it takes to come to the aid of any of their teammates during practice or when they're off the court to help them. That's what being a leader is all about.

"You've got to kind of go from being a little subservient to being the boss," Huggins said. "When you get really good, it's because you don't worry about yourself, you worry about everybody else. Things become much easier because you're concerned with the way the whole thing is working rather than just what you're doing.

"When the point comes to where you say, 'I want to help whoever it is,' then you forget about it and it starts to work. That's when they come to you and say, 'Things have been so much easier, why have you backed off?' No, we do the same stuff with the same intensity, you're just more into it now. That's what happens. That should be the normal progression. Last year, we had leaders. We just couldn't absorb the blow of losing Elijah (Macon) and Jonathan Holton, and with Terry (Henderson) getting hurt and sick as much as he did we just couldn't absorb it all. It just unfortunately didn't happen with really that one group before that."

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