— By Justin Jackson, The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Chase Harler does not fancy himself a selfish person.
But, for a few weeks last March, the West Virginia guard couldn’t get his own needs and his future out of his mind.
“I’m not going to lie, I was in a pretty dark place at the end of the season,” said Harler, who played in 33 games as a sophomore, but averaged just 10 minutes and 1.6 points.
The state’s two-time Gatorade Player of the Year for West Virginia out of Wheeling Central Catholic expected bigger things from his college career.
It wasn’t happening, and he could only blame himself.
“I kind of shot my way out of the rotation in the second half of the season,” said Harler, who failed to make a basket after Jan. 31.
Transferring, Harler admits, became a very real option: “For a while, I felt like the best thing for me was to go another way and look at other schools.”
Fast forward nearly five months and Harler finds himself in a different place. Leaving WVU is no longer an option. Working to increase his playing time is his focus. He has a sense of confidence that just wasn’t there before and a level of maturity has set in.
The Moundsville native credits some conversations he had after the season with WVU head coach Bob Huggins and a trip to China, where he played with Team Ohio in an all-star tour of the country playing against teams from China, Germany and Lithuania.
“It was a great experience. It was definitely a culture shock,” Harler said of the foreign trip. “The Chinese food wasn’t as good over there as it is here, to be honest. That was kind of the biggest difference.”
His talks with Huggins, too, made a big difference.
At one point when Harler felt like he was on the way out, the WVU head coach showed him a path to stay in.
“It wasn’t an overnight thing,” Harler said. “There was like a week where that’s all I could think about was leaving. I even kind of brought that up in my conversations [with Huggins]. I told him I wasn’t sure if I could totally commit to the team and that wasn’t fair for anyone.”
Harler said Huggins promised nothing in their conversations.
Instead, Huggins laid out a plan for Harler. The coach knew the Mountaineers would need leadership next season after both Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. graduated.
The Mountaineers have six guards on the roster next season, and none have started more than three games.
“He kind of told me he was looking for me to be a veteran-kind of guy and an older guy,” Harler said. “The more I listened to that, I kind of knew where he was coming from. I felt like I could be in a good position for this season. I’ve already been through everything else my first two years, I kind of feel like good things are going to happen the rest of the way.”
That’s actually more than just a feeling now. Harler said this has been his best offseason and he has a new-found sense of confidence he never had his first two years.
“I think where I struggled the most my first two years was my confidence,” Harler said. “During workouts or when I was by myself, I knew I could make shots and I knew I could do certain moves or I knew I play a certain way, but once you’re out there against a different team and the fans are there, I think maybe my confidence took a step back.”
The games in China played a role there, too.
On a team featuring other college players from smaller schools and a few high school athletes who have enrolled in prep school next season, Harler became one of the go-to players.
He had 28 points and seven rebounds against a team from Lithuania and added 21 against a Chinese team.
“Over six games, I averaged around 20 points,” he said. “This gave me the chance to work on a few things I never got the chance to work on my first two years. It was good for me to actually do those things in a game setting instead of just in workouts.”
For a player who piled up points in high school, Harler has made only 16-of-52 from 3 (30 percent) over two seasons at WVU. With Miles and Carter departing, Harler sees a door of opportunity. He envisions WVU attacking defenses from different areas, and he plans on playing a major role.
“Losing J.C. and Dax, there’s a hole to fill, but I feel like we relied on them too much last season,” Harler said. “They were great players, but I feel like we’re going to be more well-rounded this year. Guys are going to play a lot of different roles, which is the exciting part about it.
“I have a very good idea of what Coach Huggins wants. It’s just a matter of whether or not I can do it consistently. Being here for two years, I think I can do that.”