MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Juwan Staten’s first NCAA tournament experience, four seasons and one change-of-campus in the making, will carry him back to Ohio, back to where he developed into a major-college prospect.
When No. 5 seed West Virginia tangles with Buffalo on Friday inside Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Staten will be less than 90 minutes from his home. It was such an overwhelming circumstance that, for a moment at least, the point guard paid more attention to the venue than the opponent.
“Just to be playing in the tournament and then to be playing close to home, so my family can watch me, that’s pretty special,” Staten said.
Since damaging his left knee during a win over Texas on Feb. 24, the All-Big 12 player has done more soul searching than dribbling—shades of worry growing and receding as he contemplated whether the injury might be season-ending. After missing four games, including West Virginia’s loss to Baylor in the Big 12 quarterfinals, Staten said his mobility was good during a practice preceding Sunday’s NCAA selection show.
“It was rough at the beginning. Nobody wants to get hurt, especially in your last year and around this time that you really get excited for,” he said. “It tested my faith and made me get closer to my circle—my parents, my family and God—and it gave me sort of a different outlook.
“I never got hurt at a time so crucial … but the thing that kept me going was knowing that if everything works out that I should be playing again.”
Gary Browne, who suffered a high ankle sprain in the game following Staten’s mishap, returned to practice last week but also sat out the Big 12 tournament loss. At Sunday’s practice, he said he worked through pressing drills that tested his lateral movement and cutting stability.
“Feeling better. Conditioning-wise I felt good,” Browne said, pledging that he and Staten would be playing against Buffalo.
“It don’t matter if we’re missing a leg or something, we’ll be out there. It’s the NCAA tournament. It’s our last time playing.”
Though the Mountaineers have a 1-3 record in the absence of their senior guards, two losses were brimming with encouraging signs. They led by 18 in Lawrence—nearly ending a 32-year string of Jayhawks dominance on senior night—before Kansas won 76-69 in overtime. In Kansas City on Thursday, WVU was tied with Baylor until the 6:18 mark of what became an 80-70 loss.
Those games proved as eye-opening to Staten as they were for his teammates.
“I learned that they have a lot of fight, a lot of heart, and that’s something that is essential and needed if we want to make a run,” Staten said. “A lot of people have stepped up and grown up where they needed to. They’ve been asked to do a lot of things the last four games, things they haven’t been asked to do all year.
“There’s something that me and Gary bring to the table, that comes with experience and just knowing the situation. I think when me and Gary get back out there, everything will fall in to place.”