Esa Ahmad’s collegiate basketball career has come to an end. He, alongside Wesley Harris, have been dismissed from the team for undisclosed violations of athletics department policies.
Ahmad came to West Virginia University with high expectations and high hopes for himself. The 66th ranked player in the class of 2015 was a four-star recruit and chose WVU over Indiana, Ohio State, Iowa State, and Oregon.
After a successful freshman season, where Ahmad started all 34 games, he looked to be the next star to come out of Morgantown. He transitioned well into his sophomore season, and had what many consider to be his best season as a Mountaineer. Ahmad averaged 11.3 points per game to go along with 4.3 rebounds.
Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there. News officially broke in September of 2017 that Ahmad would miss the first half of the 2017-2018 season because he “did not meet NCAA eligibility requirements.” It didn’t seem to effect the team, however, as Jevon Carter led last year’s Mountaineers to a 15-1 start, and guided the Mountaineers all the way to a No. 2 ranking when Ahmad returned to face Texas Tech.
That’s when everything started getting worse for the team. The Mountaineers finished the regular season going 7-8 in their last 15 with Ahmad, leading many to believe Esa was a bad ingredient to what was already a perfect recipe.
One big problem I’ve always had with Esa was his lack of effort. Just by watching him, it seemed that he never bought into “Press Virginia.” He would constantly get beaten down the floor when running the press, he was always slow rotating to help and his lack of lateral quickness allowed him to get beat off the dribble more than he should.
Those are all easy problems to fix, you just have to play with some heart, something Esa never really exemplified.
After making the decision to return for his senior season, Esa was expected by all, including Coach Huggins, to be the leader of a young and promising squad.
He’s done the complete opposite of that. It’s about more than basketball at this point. The season is a wash, but there is something that will always bother me about this year. Esa Ahmad is a 22-year old man, and he wouldn’t take the responsibility to help lead these 18-year old kids and be a role model to them. Not only would he not take over close games this year, there were certain times when he was the worst player on the floor. I’ve watched him make mistakes that middle school kids make and instead of taking accountability for it, Ahmad would hang his head and eventually make the same mistake again.
Great players and great leaders grow with a program over time. Jevon Carter grew with the program, and he was probably the best leader to ever put on the West Virginia uniform. Carter bought in to everything Huggins said – he believed in the coach and his teammates. Esa Ahmad was a talented player, but he never grew. I don’t think he could handle the pressure of being the leader of the team, and obviously Coach Huggins has felt the same way as he chose to bench him earlier this season.
Coach Huggins has said a lot of eye-opening statements in his postgame press conferences this season. We will never know who they are about, but we can all use context clues. Following the 31-point loss to TCU, “We come out of a huddle and we switch from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone and one of our veteran guys asks, ‘who am I guarding?'” Huggins said.
After the loss to Florida way back in early December, Huggins said about an unidentified player, “I’ve never had a guy turn a 180 as much as he has turned. He was as coachable as he could be and now he’s not. I’ve told them in the locker room that it has to stop. They have to cut it out. You can’t put yourself before the team. I don’t put myself before the team.”
Think what you will of these quotes, but lack of effort shows. Lack of leadership shows. Ahmad isn’t a vocal player on the floor, he’s never there to pick his guys up after a tough break. Morale goes a long way with any team. And it’s apparent Ahmad did not add any to a struggling team.
Maybe saying goodbye to Ahmad will welcome in a new era for Huggins and West Virginia basketball.