Juwan Staten wasn’t in a rush. On West Virginia’s first possession against Kansas last Saturday, he toyed with his defender, dribbled around screens and pulled the ball back out to pass to teammates.
Six passes later, with seven seconds left on the shot clock, none of his teammates had made a play. Staten retrieved the ball, and after a quick hesitation dribble, drove to the rim for the easy two.
He could have done that the first time he caught the ball. With a lightning-quick first step, the Mountaineers’ floor general has the ability to blow by a defender and find a seam to the basket on whim.
“He’s become one of the better point guards, explosive point guards not only in our league, I really believe around the country,” said Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, on whose squad Staten lit up for a career-high 35 points in February.
“He’s one of the quickest guys to get to one end to the other,” Weber said. “It’s a really difficult matchup for anybody.”
A year ago, Staten wasn’t considered one of the tougher guys to cover in the Big 12. The former University of Dayton transfer led WVU with 101 assists and 38 steals. Yet a modest line of 7.6 points and 2.9 boards per game gave him the rep of having more potential than production.
But heading into 2013-14, he worked to close as many holes in his game he could find.
He watched hours of game film, analyzing the moves of Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo. He also studied former players guided by West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, including Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
Why did those guys choose to pull up there, instead of continuing to the basket? Should he have made the extra pass instead of taking his own three? Why did he reset the offense when there was an opportunity to push in transition?
Becoming a better point guard meant breaking down his own game with similar scrutiny.
“I came back with the mindset to show everybody how much work I put in, and to show everybody how serious I was about the game,” Staten said.
Not only has Staten transformed into one of the nation’s most improved players, but he’s also one of the most complete PGs in the college game.
The junior finished the regular season as the Big 12 leader in both scoring and assists, averaging 18.4 ppg and 5.9 apg. And even more impressive, at 6-1 and 190 pounds, he grabbed nearly 6 boards a night.
The Bob Cousy Award finalist was among the conference’s leaders in nearly every statistical category: second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.88), fifth in field-goal percentage (49.2 percent) and eighth in steals per game (1.19).
“We’ve got a lot of good point guards in our league, but I don’t think any of them have put together the year that he has,” Huggins said.
Staten fills up the box score but impacts the game in subtle ways, too. He knows how to maneuver his body in the air to finish in traffic. He knows where to pass before his teammate realizes he’s open. When he has the ball, he’s in control.
That’s why he hardly leaves the game. No one in the Big 12 plays more minutes than he, with 37.5 a night.
At times putting WVU on his back, Staten’s 35 points led to an 81-71 win against Kansas State, and his 24-point, 9-assist outing fueled the 92-86 upset over then-No. 8 Kansas.
Staten received All-Big 12 First-Team honors, but didn’t win Player of the Year.
He’s jumped into the nation’s conversation on elite point guards, but many are still not mentioning him.
“I feel underrated, but that’s nothing new. I felt underrated my whole life, and that’s part of the reason I play as hard as I do,” Staten said. “That’s part of the reason I play with a chip on my shoulder. Because it seems like no matter what I do or how much I do it’s never enough to be mentioned with the best.
“I mean, I personally love it because it keeps me hungry, and it keeps me mad on the court, it keeps me with a chip on my shoulder. So I enjoy being underrated because it’s always giving me something to look forward to and something to work toward.”
Though the Mountaineers lost to Texas in the first round of the Big 12 tournament, Staten already has one item listed on his list for next season: outside shooting.
He’s only attempted 14 threes this season. At his size, developing a three-point shot is crucial for playing at the next level.
Growing up, he didn’t have to rely on long-distance shooting because he was so much quicker than his opponents. Getting to the basket was easy.
Now he aims to be as effective from three-point range as he is in getting to the cup.
“I think it’s a confidence thing,” Huggins said. “[When] he gets confidence in being able to shoot the three, I think he’ll be even better. He’s really good right now but he’ll be even better.”
It’s still a show-and-prove game for Staten, though.
“I know that there’s people watching me that never watched me before, and I want to show them what a dynamic guard looks like,” he said.
This season he became the first player in West Virginia history to amass 500 points, 150 rebounds and 150 assists—a feat that even former Mountaineers Jerry West, “Hot Rod” Hundley and Rod Thorn, dynamic guards themselves, never accomplished.
Photo via USA Today