By Sara Wells
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Leader (n): a guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group, also known as senior West Virginia point guard Juwan Staten.
Quick review: Staten helped a player, now his roommate, walk on to the team. He teaches players skills he’s learned elsewhere and asks more questions than anyone during film and scouting meetings. He’s the first one at a meeting and the last one to leave the gym. On the hottest days of the year, he’s on the Coliseum floor practicing.
Flashback to 2010, when Staten was playing basketball in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, for the University of Dayton. While enjoying college basketball there, he knew that in order to reach his goals, he had to go bigger. It wasn’t his ‘stopping place.’ Offers to transfer came flooding in, and Staten had to decide.
“I had a lot of goals that required me to be at a school with tradition, in a good conference and with a well-known coach,” Staten said. “WVU was the school that offered me all of that.”
From the time that Staten hit the court in the Old Gold and Blue, he immediately had an impact. Last season, he emerged as the team’s go-to guy, not only on the court, but off it as well.
At the conclusion of last season, a dilemma arose for this year’s Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year. He could leave college basketball with a successful personal season under his belt, or he could stay and seize the opportunity of having a good team season.
“There were some things left on the table for the team and I,” explained Staten. “I felt if I stayed in college basketball we’d have time to reach those goals.”
So Staten went back to work. During the offseason, he worked harder than ever for the things he wanted during the 2014-15 campaign- to make the NCAA tournament, be an All-American and win player of the year in the Big 12 Conference.
“Last year set me up for a lot of that heading into this year,” said Staten. “I thought, if I set myself up for it, I might as well finish it out.”
The Mountaineers are already having a better season than last and have been routinely ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. If that momentum continues, WVU will be headed back to the NCAA tournament in March.
So how did this change occur? New athletes, change in pace and press have been credited. However, one name is always mentioned when talking Mountaineer basketball: Juwan Staten. Not just because of his on-the-court performance, but because of his take-charge nature off of it.
The first example: two seasons ago, Juwan met now-junior guard Tyrone Hughes.
“I knew of Juwan because we played in the same AAU leagues growing up,” Hughes explained. “I was playing with him one day at open gym and he said, ‘Why aren’t you on the team’? The rest is history.”
Staten was constantly in the gym, hounding Hughes with drills and workouts to make him better. He would even call himself out of games for Hughes to get playing time. Staten took Hughes to Dayton with him over the summer to work out with Staten’s father and better his game. It wasn’t long before he made the team.
Longtime Mountaineer Basketball radio analyst Jay Jacobs saw this relationship as well as many others blossom as a result of Staten’s coming to the Mountain State to play.
With all the work he put in last year, it surprised some people that he came back, especially Jacobs. He did, however, expect him to want to be better and make the team he was leaving better.
“Last year he blossomed into a really good player on both ends,” explained Jacobs. “He had a great year, so he has a lot of sky-high expectations from the fans, team and coaches. As far as a leader, I don’t like to think about where we’d be if we didn’t have him.”
Even though Staten is a senior, he’s still studying who’s going to guard him and who he needs to guard before every game. He’s taken nothing for granted.
“I do it because you can never stop learning,” Staten said. “You learn something new every day being around a coach that has been around as long as Coach (Bob) Huggins has. He has met a lot of people and he’s full of information. I pick his brain a lot. I always ask questions and try to find something new to help the team.”
Staten’s relationship with the coaches has made him a sort of coach himself. He knows how they tick; he knows what they want and what they don’t; he’s not just a teammate; he’s a role model.
“Sometimes I’m a little mean, but that’s just part of being a leader,” said Staten. “You can’t always say things the way they want to hear it. You have to say it the way it’s going to be effective. I have a good grasp on the guys on our team and I know when I can be forceful and when I need to be laid back.”
Is Staten perfect? Ask a Mountaineer fan and you’ll probably get a yes. Ask a WVU student-athlete; you’ll probably get a yes. Ask him? You’ll get the complete opposite.
“If the fans don’t see me struggling during a game, my teammates will,” Staten said. “They’re really uplifting and encouraging. They’re always trying to help if I’m not scoring, looking to me for shots and encouraging me to keep working toward perfection. I love leading them because they make me better. I owe so much to this team. Without them, I’m nothing.”