The West Virginia men’s basketball roster took another hit this weekend as guard Miles McBride has decided to remain in the NBA Draft and forgo his junior season with the program. McBride led the Mountaineers in scoring, steals and assists as a sophomore.
After an impressive showing at the NBA Combine, McBride saw his draft stock rise and some major outlets tabbed him as a first-round pick. Following Deuce’s decision, WVU Hall of Famer and Gold and Blue Nation basketball analyst Warren Baker weighed in.
“Maybe it’s a selfish thing, but I think one more year really would have helped him,” Baker said. “But then again, if someone tells you that you are going to go in the first round and this is the money you are going get — as a young man like that, it would be tough for me to say don’t do it. I do think one more year would have served him well, but with that, you always have to worry about injuries and such. If it is there and he can get it, more power to him and I wish him the best.”
Another guy Bake believes will benefit from another year in Gold and Blue is Sean McNeil. It seems the guard from Kentucky thinks the same thing — he announced on Saturday afternoon that he is withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft and will be returning for the 2021-22 season. That means his signature Hot Boy triple will be back, too. He led the Mountaineers three-pointers last season with 69 and ranked fifth in the Big 12 in triple per game. McNeil reached double-figure scoring in 18 games this past season, including a career-high 26 points at Texas Tech.
McBride isn’t the only starting player from a year ago that won’t be returning due to the draft. WVU’s top-rebounder Derek Culver announced he was going pro back in April. While that is two huge roles to fill for the Mountaineers this upcoming season, Bob Huggins did bring in some talented transfers that will be relied on out of the gate.
“It is a blow to the program, but I think in anticipation of some of this, they’ve recruited some guys that will be coming in,” Baker said. “It’s going to take some time, obviously, you just can’t replace Deuce and Derek right away, but I think they are going to be okay.”
One of those newcomers Huggins expects to make an immediate impact is Old Dominion transfer Mailk Curry. He started in all 20 games for the Monarchs last season and led the team in scoring (15.7 points per game), steals (37) and assists (71). He reached double-figures in scoring in all but one game and was named to the All-Conference USA Second Team.
“He’s really good at attacking the rim, and should Deuce not return, we need somebody who can put pressure on the rim,” Huggins said on Tuesday before McBride officially made his decision. “Taz [Sherman] and Sean [McNeil] can both score, but they aren’t really great at attacking the rim. Malik is a guy that can really attack the rim and I think he is a guy that can get other guys shots because of his ability to penetrate.”
Curry and forwards Pauly Paulicap and Dimon Carrigan will have one year of eligibility with the program. Paulicap comes to Morgantown from Old Dominion while Carrigan spent the last two seasons at Florida International.
“You just hope you get the right guys in your program through the portal that will give them some good chemistry because West Virginia is on the verge of being a very, very good basketball team. Obviously losing Deuce hurts, but I think if they can get these guys to come in and mesh together, they will be a good, strong team,” Baker added.
Even though McBride and Culver will not be returning, West Virginia does have a number of guys that have valuable experience. Taz Sherman and Gabe Osabuohien are both using their extra year of eligibility with the program. Add in McNeil, Jalen Bridges and Isaiah Cottrell, who missed the bulk of last season due to an injury, and you’ve got a talented core.
While McBride just made his decision, there was anticipation that this would be the direction he went in. This now provides an opportunity for players to step up and prove they can rise to the occasion. Baker said all the returners will be counted on to take their game to another level this upcoming season.
“Cottrell would have been such a huge, huge plus for the program last year before getting injured. The thing that concerns me about the Achilles injury is it can happen again, I’ve seen it before, but he’s going to have to step up. Bridges will have to up his game even though he played extremely well, and then if we can get Taz and Sean to play the way they did last year, this team will be fine. Gabe is Gabe, he’s never going to give you a lot of scoring, but he’s another tough guy that is going to give you everything he has. The nucleus is there for them to still have a pretty decent ball club,” he detailed.
Now, of course, there is going to be an adjustment period with this team, but that’s what the preseason and nonconference games are for. After knowing what McBride was going to bring to the table every game last season, the Mountaineers are going to have to get used to someone new in that role handling the ball. Deuce not only set himself apart at WVU, but he also did that same thing in the combine, which comes as no surprise. Baker believes there’s a number of things in Deuce’s repertoire that will translate to the professional level. The main one is his mentality.
“His overall athletic ability is huge and Deuce just has that mindset, we saw it in a couple of different games last year, he just wasn’t going to let West Virginia lose. I think that is something you have to have when you go in there (NBA),” Baker said. “When I go in there, I’m going to get it done no matter what the situation is — that is how Deuce looks at things. You could see that in his personality on the court act WVU and I think that is something that will translate nicely to the NBA.”