The NCAA tournament is a first dance for some, and the only dance for a few too

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A lot of moving and shaking took place for some Mountaineer players this past offseason. Seven players transferred to the team. Five transfers make up the WVU starting lineup, four of which weren’t at West Virginia a year ago.

Starters Erik Stevenson, Emmitt Matthews Jr., and Kedrian Johnson are all fifth-year seniors, making their last run, and surprisingly for one guy, his first run, too, at a win in college basketball’s major postseason event.

All three players spoke Wednesday at the Legacy Arena in Birmingham ahead of the Mountaineers’ matchup with No. 8 seed Maryland at 12:15 p.m. Thursday.

“Probably have some nerves come game time, but just excited and anxious to get out there,” Stevenson said.

When you realize the quality of coaches that Stevenson has played for in his five-year collegiate career, it doesn’t seem right that this will be his first March Madness appearance.

“It’s hard to believe he’s played for the programs he has played in and hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament,” head coach Bob Huggins said Wednesday.

Stevenson first suited up for Wichita State for two seasons under head coach Gregg Marshall, who took the Shockers to the Final Four in 2013. He then spent one year in Washington, followed by South Carolina, before finding himself in Morgantown.

On Wednesday, Stevenson was asked how it was adjusting to the coaching style of Huggins, his fourth college coach.

“It didn’t take long,” he said. “I’ve played for a lot of great coaches and Huggs is a Hall-of-Famer.”

Those coaches include the beforementioned Marshall, as well as Frank Martin for the Gamecocks and Mike Hopkins of the Washington Huskies.

“He’s very demanding, but when you meet his demands, he’ll give you freedom, and you can’t ask for more than that,” Stevenson added.

Huggins also spoke highly of the teams leading scorer.

“Erik and I have always had a pretty good relationship,” Huggins said. “We need to take care of each other and obviously he’s done a good job of that here late.”

Matthews Jr. began his college ball playing three seasons for West Virginia before spending one season in Washington, just like Stevenson. He returned this year for a second stint under Huggins.

“I’d rather focus on playing the games, and when it ends, it ends,” Matthews Jr. said. “Knowing you still have something ahead of you, working towards a national championship, I’d rather focus on that.”

The same goes for Johnson, who is playing in his second NCAA tournament Thursday. WVU qualified for the event in 20201, Johnson’s first season in the program, though he played sparingly then.

“For me personally, I try to live in the moment, but the emotions are high,” said Johnson.

West Virginia was in 0-5 to begin Big 12 play, putting the Mountaineers position where they had to win games late in the regular season to setup Thursday’s matchup with the Terrapins.

“I’m glad I’m going to end my career where I want to — in an NCAA tournament,” Stevenson said.

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