WVU players closer than ever this season

There were a number of ways that West Virginia has improved this season.

After struggling mightily to get stops on the defensive end of the floor the last two seasons, the Mountaineers head into one of the NCAA tournament as one of the most feared teams to play against thanks to its full-court press. They're hitting the offensive glass again, and they have two experienced senior guards who are able to lead this inexperienced, young team in the direction they need to head in.

But none of that is the biggest reason for West Virginia's turnaround this season. None of those things would matter as much as they do if the personality of this WVU team wasn't one that is much better than it has been the last two seasons when the Mountaineers struggled to come together as a unit - and it showed up on the court.

"Last year, as a team, we were kind of divided. We kind of had different little groups that hung out," said senior point guard Juwan Staten. "But from day one with this team, everybody's been together. We've done team events and we've been together a lot. Everybody hangs out, everybody gets along with everybody - and sometimes it's to a fault.

"Sometimes we're in practice talking too much or laughing too much and we get in trouble by our coaches. But ultimately that's what brings us together as a team. And that's been a big part about how we've been able to come so far."

That, in part, has to come back to the leadership of Staten and fellow senior guard Gary Browne - as well as some of the other returning players who had to watch as the Mountaineers struggled the last few seasons. With a re-tooled lineup full of freshmen and junior college transfers, the leaders of this West Virginia team were able to see the things that had gone wrong and help steer away from those things this year.

But that started with setting the example. They had to all buy in to what they were wanting to do, in hopes that everyone else would follow their lead - something that didn't always happen the last two years.

There was something different about this group though, something that made them stand out in Huggins' mind and look like this could be a team that did something special.

"The thing that was most evident from the beginning, and continues to be, is their enthusiasm," Huggins said. "They love to play. Sometimes you gave some teams where guys come in and it's like a chore for them to be there, and they don't act like they really want to be there. This team is not (like that) - it's not like they just want to be there, they're extremely enthusiastic about being there."

That drive and the initiative that they have to get better has made the Mountaineers more ready than ever to make the jump this season, and it's been a big reason that you've been able to see that improvement.

Having players that want to be there has helped Huggins be able to focus more on coaching them up and getting them better on the court at all times during practice.

"If you think about it, in anything and any workplace, that's what you want. You want enthusiastic people, people who care," Huggins said. "I've said for a long, long time, it's hard to motivate people to work hard and teach at the same time. If you're consistently trying to motivate them, you're spending your time trying to motivate them, you're not spending your time trying to teach them. I think we got better day in and day out because they come in with the idea that they're going to be enthusiastic and then we don't have to worry about motivating guys to be excited about it and to listen and to do things, because they already do that. So then you can coach them."


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