SAN JOSE, Calif. — Flashing some locker room chain-of-command, Jevon Carter butted in on Lamont West’s interview because West’s butt was in the wrong place.
“You’re in my seat,” Carter blurted. “You see whose locker that is? I need my seat.”
The freshman West stopped cold, mid-answer, and promptly relocated to a corner chair beside the mini-fridge.
During a season becoming more memorable with every shot, Carter has grown accustomed to directing his West Virginia teammates, and they have grown used to listening.
On the eve of facing top-seeded Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, no Mountaineer looms more essential to keeping the season alive.
Sure, the dispersion of minutes up-and-down the roster verifies unusual depth, and West Virginia wouldn’t have been a top-15 team the past three months without points, rebounds and fervor from its lengthy bench. Yet all these components require a focal point to keep them in proper orbit, and Carter orchestrates the universe.
This is about more than his scoring (which leads the team) or his assists (ditto) or his steals (ditto) or his minutes (ditto). Numbers don’t fully underscore the hours of daily commitment required to achieve them, the hundreds upon hundreds of shots attempted outside of Bob Huggins’ grueling practices.
Three weeks ago, on the day before a game in Morgantown, Carter was in the Coliseum hoisting jumpers when he got sideways with a nearby freshman for horseplaying.
“Man, we’ve only got 3 more minutes before practice!” Carter barked, intolerant of someone infringing upon his pre-practice practice.
Similar scenes transpire during the Mountaineers’ pregame stretching. When teammates trot off to the locker room, Carter typically lingers at the foul line putting up additional free throws.
Even Wednesday, as the Mountaineers huddled midcourt for the end of their public shootaround at SAP Center, Carter remained 20 feet away, further calibrating his 3-point stroke.
New arena, new sightlines, same routine.
This is not to say he’s a perfect player, or an All-American; as of yet, he’s not even all-conference. There was hardly room for a fourth point guard on the Big 12’s first team that included Monte Morris, Jawun Evans and Frank Mason. Of more importance to Carter is that his team, unlike Morris’ and Evans’, continues playing.
“You know, we’re winners,” he said.
From 25 to 26 to its current 28, West Virginia’s win totals have climbed during each of Carter’s three seasons. Claiming a 29th on Thursday likely will hinge upon Carter disrupting Nigel Williams-Goss, who leads the Zags in minutes, scoring, assists and steals.
Carter certainly embraced the occasion in the second-round NCAA win over Notre Dame, scoring a season-high 24 points and giving away nary a turnover over 37 minutes. With only elite competition remaining, Carter needs more exceptional outputs.
“He goes in waves,” assistant coach Josh Eilert said of Carter after dispatching the Irish. “He’ll have a great game and the next night out he struggles.
“If he’s playing better offense he really turns it up on the defensive end as well. When he sees shots fall, he’s more apt to get up in somebody and wear them out.”
Williams-Goss is taller, more decorated and entertained a host of major offers coming out of prep school. Watch closely to see how he mingles with Carter, his primary point-of-contact on Press Virginia.
None of the opponent’s pedigree or Gonzaga’s No. 1 seeding fazes Carter, the alpha dog of the WVU locker room who wants to claim a seat in the Elite Eight.
“We feel like we’re the best,” Carter said. “So them being No. 1 don’t really make us feel any different.”