MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — On the eve of what may be the gimpiest Senior Day in college basketball history, Juwan Staten’s knee appeared heavily wrapped beneath warmup pants at Friday’s practice. Gary Browne still showed a limp, six days removed from suffering a high ankle sprain, and Kevin Noreen discussed the spate of surgeries that rendered him a bystander for his entire final season.
Instead of West Virginia’s seniors running out on the blue carpet for Saturday’s pregame intros, coach Bob Huggins joked “they might be wheeled out there.”
Browne played less than 3 minutes on the recent two-game road trip, of which Staten sat out the entirety. While both are questionable for the sold-out season finale against Oklahoma State, at least they have their sights on returning for next week’s Big 12 tournament and the subsequent NCAA draw.
Noreen, however, realized months ago he wouldn’t be able to contribute as a fifth-year senior.
The 6-foot-10 forward played through hamstring and wrist injuries last season, not wanting to shut it down as West Virginia tried in vain to earn an NCAA bid. After an NIT loss to Georgetown, which wound up being Noreen’s final game, he underwent surgery for an avulsion fracture, suffered when the hamstring tendon separates from the bone, sometimes tearing bone fragments in the process.
Upon learning his July hamstring surgery carried a six-month rehab, Noreen put aside an offer to serve as th team’s graduate assistant in hopes of returning for Big 12 conference play in January. That goal was dashed in October, when he tore his labrum during a weightlifting session.
“Nothing exotic—just an overhead lift I had done many times before,” Noreen said. “But after one rep my arm didn’t respond properly at all, and I knew there was a problem.”
He also knew he wasn’t going to make it back into action, a disappointment because “I thought we were going to be good this year.” And West Virginia has been good—compiling a 22-8 record thanks to a pressing style that hardly suits Noreen’s game. Still, Huggins said Friday that Noreen “would have found a way” to help the team.
“I’ve had to change my game to acclimate to Huggs’ style ever since I came here, so I like to think I could have done it again this season,” Noreen said. “Just giving us another body inside would have been a boost at times.”
Noreen, who missed parts of his first two seasons with knee and ankle injuries, recalled the four previous Senior Day ceremonies he watched at WVU, moments he considered precious for reminiscing and honoring guys who led the team.
“Senior Day is something I always wanted to experience,” he said. “I saw how much it meant to those seniors in the past and how much they meant to the program.
“That’s the reason I came back this year, to have a Senior Day, to walk out there and show my appreciation for all the people who were there for me.”
After seven career operations—a school record Huggins joked “will be hard to top”—Noreen gets his moment Saturday.
Browne can relate to the emotion surrounding his final home game. When the guard was picked No. 7 in the Puerto Rico pro league draft last month, he choked up and declined to speak about it, “because it reminds me how little time I have left here.”
The last holdover from WVU’s seven-member 2011 recruiting class—a group decimated by five players who transferred within two years—Browne described himself as “a loyal person” determined to stick around through the lean times.
“I don’t want to say that West Virginia made me, but they give me every thing I need over here—the coaches, the fans, and the other people I’m surrounded by,” he said.
“You can’t just leave when things gets tough, at least in my perspective. I like challenge. I like to be great. When things are not going good, I want to make them good.”
Browne’s 7.0 points per game this season are a personal best, as is his 36-percent 3-point shooting. He emerged as WVU’s top offensive threat in wins at TCU (16 points) and Oklahoma State (18 points).
“Gary’s gotten better and better,” Huggins said . “It’s a same he got hurt at the end. He was making shots consistently, which he didn’t do before, but he’s always brought us that toughness. He brings that grit that you really need.”
Staten, the Big 12 preseason player of the year, has seen fewer minutes thanks to WVU’s deeper rotation, yet ranks fifth in the league in scoring (14.5), second in assists (4.6), second in assist/turnover ratio (2.4) and third in free-throw attempts (157).
After clashing with Huggins during his sophomore year, the Dayton transfer re-emerged as a floor leader and one of the nation’s most dynamic players.
“The first year I don’t think roles were very clearly defined,” Huggins said. “But he came in after that year and asked ‘What do you want me to do?’ He asked for tapes of Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan and committed himself to being one of the best point guards I ever coached.”
No. 20 WEST VIRGINIA (22-8, 10-7)
vs. OKLAHOMA STATE (18-11, 8-9)
Tipoff: 2 p.m. Eastern at the WVU Coliseum (ESPNews)
Scouting the Cowboys: Oklahoma State, projected as a No. 9 seed by Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm, likely needs a win in Morgantown or one at the league tourney to cement an NCAA invite. … Le’Bryan Nash (17 points, 5.5 rebounds) is the Big 12’s second-leading scorer primarily because he gets to the foul line more frequently than anyone—a league-best 201 free-throw attempts. He finished with 12 points and four rebounds in the Pokes’ 73-63 loss to WVU in Stillwater. … Phil Forte (16.5 points, 1.9 steals) was only 1-of-3 from the floor in that game but made eight free throws to finish with 10 points. After starting OSU’s first 28 games, he came off the bench in Wednesday’s 82-70 win over TCU. … Though they’re just 3-7 in road games this season, the Cowboys made them count—winning at Memphis, Texas and Baylor. … LSU transfer point guard Anthony Hickey (9.6 points, 4.3 rebounds) is coming off a season-high 20 points vs. TCU. … Forward Michael Cobbins (6.8 points, 5.9 rebounds) joins Nash and Hickey among OSU’s five seniors.
Coaching the Cowboys: Travis Ford (324-243 overall in 18 seasons) stands 143-87 at Oklahoma State. Having led OSU to only one NCAA win in his first six seasons, his job could be in jeopardy. However a 10-year contract extension, which guarantees him $2.4 million for each of the next four years, makes firing Ford a costly proposition.
Mountaineer musings: If Staten and Browne can’t go, Jevon Carter (8.6 points, 1.8 steals) once again will handle the lion’s share of the point guard duties. His two-game audition over the past week yielded extreme results: 25 points in a 78-66 loss at Baylor and four points on 0-of-10 shooting in the 76-69 overtime loss at Kansas. … Daxter Miles (6.9 points, 2.3 rebounds) is coming off a career-high 23 points at Kansas. … Devin Williams (10.7 points, 8.0 rebounds) has fouled out twice in the past seven games and reached double figures only once. … Jonathan Holton (8 points, 6.1 rebounds) and Nathan Adrian (2.9 pouts, 2.5 rebounds) ) are the other projected starters. … Though they rank last in the Big 12 in 3-point defense, the Mountaineers held Kansas to 0-of-15 long-range shooting … WVU still leads the country in forced turnovers (20.1 per game). Only three times has it committed more turnovers than its opponent, losing all three games. …. Huggins (762-310 overall in his 33rd season) is 172-99 at West Virginia. He moved up a notch to second on the active wins list when the NCAA docked 108 from Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim on Friday.
RPIs: West Virginia 23, Oklahoma State 42
Line: West Virginia favored by 6
Prediction: Oklahoma State 62-60