West Virginia shrugs off the doubters, even the one in the White House

COLUMBUS, Ohio — President Obama labeled West Virginia a one-and-done, payback perhaps for the state voting Romney and McCain the past two elections. Jay Bilas and Doug Gottlieb picked Buffalo, too, as America’s Bracket leans toward the ever popular 12-5 upset.

West Virginia senior guard Gary Browne shrugged it off. After all, many of the doubters probably didn’t begin the season factoring on the Mountaineers winning 23 games, brandishing a No. 24 RPI and earning a favored seed.

“We don’t really pay attention to what other people say, because if we were to pay attention to that from the very beginning of the season we would not be here right now,” Browne said Thursday. “Because all the expectations from the beginning of the season wasn’t positive. So right now we have a small circle. We have our teammates. We have our coaching staff. We have our state. We don’t really care what other people say.”

Not that he’s completely brushing off the nonbelievers, adding “It fires us up a little bit.”
It fires up Juwan Staten a lot.

“Everybody on our team, I feel like has been slighted in some way in their career,” he said. “They feel like they deserved more in some way. So this whole season has just been about proving people wrong.”

In truth, even the Buffalo student-athletes, having spent the season in virtual anonymity, aren’t enchanted by the bandwagoners.

“We try not to listen to ESPN and Jay Bilas,” said Shannon Evans. “He picked us to win. We try to stick to our principles.”

Close to home: Though enthused to make his NCAA tournament debut within 90 minutes of his home, Staten admitted the proximity made for tough decisions on how to distribute guest tickets. Each player receives four, leaving Ohio natives like Staten, Elijah Macon and Devin Williams to barter with teammates for leftovers.

“I have a lot of family and friends coming, and I actually feel kind of bad because I had to tell some people they had to buy their own tickets,” Staten said. “But it’s an amazing feeling. And I’ve definitely been feeling the love from everybody that I know in Ohio.”

Williams, who grew up in Cincinnati, had a large family contingent watch West Virginia’s game at Northern Kentucky this season. Finding seats for the opening rounds of the NCAA created far higher demand.

“I had to be careful,” he said, “to make sure to get my mom and my nephew on the list.”

Memories of 2012 tourney: A freshman during West Virginia’s opening-round loss to Gonzaga three years ago, Browne presumed March Madness would become an annual rite.

“I had two seniors, Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant, and they were pissed that we lost the first round, but I was happy that I made it because I was just a freshman. I thought we were going to make it the next three years.”

Then West Virginia went 30-35 the next two seasons.

Now Browne’s the senior, a guy whose career looms in do-or-die mode.

“I tell the (young) guys do something you want to enjoy but at the same time you want to take advantage of it, because you don’t know when is the next time you’re going to be here.”

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