March 24, 2014

Harris' Departure Raises Questions

It is the departure that has taken aback all of Mountaineer Nation. On Monday, West Virginia men's basketball coach Bob Huggins announced that sophomore guard Eron Harris had asked for his release and planned to transfer away from Morgantown.

While the release focused on Harris' desire to be closer to home, few if any indications leading up to the announcement had people anticipating this potential bombshell. After all, the guard development into one of the Mountaineer's top offensive threats this past season, averaging 17.2 points-per-game and leading the squad in three-point shooting.

Although it is too early to speculate as to the true reasoning of his departure, and admittedly hard due to the complex mind of a young college student, one thing is certain - the 2014-2015 season is no longer the slam-dunk people believed it to be. With the departure of Harris, the guard depth and scoring threat West Virginia was looking forward to next year has taken an unprecedented hit.

Occupying the backcourt next season will be Juwan Staten, Terry Henderson, and Gary Browne. Three players that Mountaineer fans have seen plenty of over the past few seasons, and three players fans know what they will get from on a nightly basis.

Staten, most notably, will have the spotlight shining directly on him to lead the Mountaineers on a successful run next season. The rising senior guard has nearly made a himself household name among college basketball fans for his lightning quick play, superb ball-handling skills, impressive range, and lockdown defense. Any success West Virginia has next season will likely live and die at the hands of Staten.

But there is now that looming question of the NBA potentially ringing in Staten's ear. It is without question he will test the professional waters this offseason, but with the departure of Harris how will Staten approach his future? Will he look at this as more of an opportunity to put a team on his back, or with one less weapon could it be a potential liability?

While those questions will remain unanswered at the moment, it is best to keep an eye on Staten and his ultimate decision in the coming months.

Behind Staten, the coaching staff will likely turn to Browne and Henderson to initially fill the void at guard.

Entering last season, Coach Huggins raved at the improvement of Browne throughout the summer; however, fans really saw very little of that on the court. Sure, there were times where the shifty junior would put together some impressive shooting streaks, and his defense improved exponentially from the year before, but it seemed like all aspects of his game were plagued by random bouts of inconsistency.

If Browne hopes to find his way deeper into the rotation, some work will have to be done in the offseason. The potential is there for the rising senior to pick up some of scoring slack Harris leaves behind, but it will take a next-level jump in work this offseason to make this a reality.

That leaves the talents of Henderson to ultimately fill the role left by his 2012 classmate. Throughout the season, Henderson appeared to battle neck-and-neck with Harris at times for the number two slot behind Staten. With 18 double-digit performances this year in only 29 games, missing four late-season contests due to an illness, Henderson has shown he can battle with the best of them from beyond the arc.

Furthermore, some might argue that Henderson was the better all-around player than Harris. Defensively, Henderson provided more help for the Mountaineers in all aspects. And once he even got hold of the ball, it could be said that Henderson was more of a threat from all over the court than Harris would be.

However, the trio of Harris, Henderson, and Staten just complimented each other so well. The versatile Henderson, the speedy and accurate Staten, and the shooting of Harris worked well together for the Mountaineers, making this team look like a top Big 12 threat when all clicking.

But the "what could have been" potential will never be fully realized. A spot at guard and scholarship is now open for the taking, and the man who never saw a three-point shot he did not like is gone.

The mass exodus from West Virginia basketball continues, but the question has to be asked - when will the bleeding stop?

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