New look possible for West Virginia basketball
Press Virginia might never look the same.
Jevon Carter turned defense into a personal mission at West Virginia, and he helped transform the Mountaineers into a team that suffocated opponents and used its stifling defense for scoring opportunities.
Carter took West Virginia to the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons. In his final game, fifth-seeded West Virginia ran into hot-shooting Villanova. The top-seeded Wildcats made 13 of 24 3-pointers, and the Mountaineers lost, 90-78, Friday night in the regional semifinals in Boston.
Carter finished as West Virginia's all-time steals leader with 330 and led the nation this season with 112. He finished second in career assists with 559 and eighth in school history with 1,758 points.
West Virginia must find a new pair of guards who also can replace the defensive intensity of Carter and fellow senior Daxter Miles Jr. They became the most experienced starting guard tandem in the country and tied a school record with 10 NCAA Tournament games.
Carter wasn't heavily recruited out of high school. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins recalled going to a summer AAU tournament and, while drinking his morning coffee, there's Carter at the other end of the gym working on his defense.
“This guy's pressing at 8 a.m.,” Huggins said. “No one else on his team was pressing. It's just him … pressuring people from end line to end line.”
Carter said Huggins “just gave me a chance, a small guy from Maywood, Ill., who didn't have a lot of looks. He just saw something in me that a lot of people didn't.”
When Carter and Miles arrived on campus, West Virginia had missed the NCAA Tournament for two consecutive years and had struggled to compete in the Big 12, which it joined in the 2012-13 season.
Throughout the duo's careers, the Mountaineers ranked near the top of Division I in forced turnovers and steals.
“The day I stepped on campus, I knew we were going to press,” Carter said.
And now the Mountaineers will have to look elsewhere to keep Press Virginia going.
James Bolden is set to take over one starting guard spot next season. As a sophomore, Bolden averaged 8.7 points off the bench and had a penchant for drawing offensive fouls.
In West Virginia's forward-heavy lineup, Chase Harler, who averaged 10 minutes and 1.6 points per game, is the only other guard with significant playing experience. Huggins is set to bring in a pair of high school guards for next season.
Anchoring the Mountaineers will be shot-blocking specialist Sagaba Konate and forward Esa Ahmad, who missed the first two months of this season with an NCAA academic suspension.
Konate was third in scoring at 10.8 points per game and Ahmad was fourth at 10.2. They were the team's top two rebounders. Also returning are starting forward Wes Harris, backups Lamont West and Teddy Allen, and backup big men Maciej Bender and Logan Routt.
Huggins will have plenty of time to figure out how to unleash his defense next season. For now, he's trying to get through the emotions of saying goodbye to Carter and Miles.
“They're going to go down as the best four-year backcourt in the history of West Virginia basketball,” Huggins said. “And that's saying a lot. They're the heart and soul of this team.”