As West Virginia prepares for the start of the 2016/2017 season, there are many questions about the roster. How will the Mountaineers replicate Devin Williams' rebounding ability? Will West Virginia still be Press Virginia without Jonathan Holton guarding the inbound pass? Will someone step up and give the Mountaineers a spark like Jaysean Paige did last season? Tarik Phillip, who is entering his senior year with the Mountaineers, doesn't seem to worries and says expectations haven't changed much around the team. Phillip answered the first question about replacing Williams' rebounding production by saying he expects the improvement of Elijah Macon and Brandon Watkins to provide assistance there. Phillip also said he has been impressed by the newcomers at the forward positions.
"I wouldn't say one person has (stepped up for Devin Williams)," Phillip stated. "But all of our bigs have taken it upon themselves. Even though Devin Williams left Elijah (Macon) has been in the gym a lot and Brandon Watkins has been in the gym a lot, and we have a couple of great big men who have come in as freshman like Sags (Sagaba Konate) and Maciej Bender."
Konate certainly looks physically ready to contribute immediately and should provide the Mountaineers with a big body who is capable of pulling down big rebounds right off the bat. Bender is still adjusting, but Phillip feels that once he makes the adjustment he has a very high ceiling. Another player the Mountaineers must find a way to replace is sixth-man Jaysean Paige, who provided instant offense off the bench and seemingly always gave the Mountaineers a spark when entering the game. While the starting five is far from being set, Phillip's name is one that keeps popping up when Mountaineer players and coaches are asked who could be the guy who could provide that spark this year. Phillip says he's ready to embrace whatever role is necessary to help the team win and that he could see himself in a similar position to Paige.
"I'm just ready for whatever Coach Huggs needs me to do," Phillip said. "Whatever he needs me to do I'm going to try to get it done."
Phillip noted that he's taken advantage of his class schedule which is not as rigorous as it has been in previous years and said he's spending more time in the gym, which is something that led Paige to becoming the player he was last season. Phillip also said that the team's disappointing finish coupled with the seemingly lower expectations for the team has provided a role in motivating him as well as others to have another big year.
"I feel like knowing that we lost to a team that we should have beat and that everybody thought we were going to beat and knowing that we pretty much beat ourselves gave us a self check and gets us more ready for this season," Phillip said regarding the first round tournament loss to Stephen F. Austin last year. "Everybody is saying we lost guys again and its the same kind of competitive thing. They're thinking that we're not as good as we were last year, but I feel like we'll be fine and we'll be ready."
Phillip also said that this year Bob Huggins has made it known that he expects him to be one of the team's leaders this year and that's something that Phillip is more than ready to embrace.
"Coach Huggins told me that my role this year is to try to become a leader of the team, so that's what I'm going to try to do."