Amidst what is potentially Bob Huggins’ worst season at West Virginia, an elephant in the room has emerged that no one – not even the players – want to address.
What in the world is going on with Sagaba Konate and why isn’t he playing?
Apparently, three doctors have already concluded that there is nothing structurally wrong with his injured right knee. In essence, it’s his head, not his knee, that’s keeping him from suiting up with the Mountaineers. Have the post-Christmas crutches and knee brace been props in an Academy Award-winning act inspired by ulterior motives?
Let’s go into Konate’s head, shall we? Why would one think he would intentionally sit and abandon the team?
West Virginia has a myriad of issues—many more than one man (in this case Konate) can fix—and it doesn’t appear as if they’ll be busting any brackets this year if the Mountaineers make the NCAA Tournament at all. In the me-first, team-second era that we live in currently, Konate may not want to waste the effort or take the risk of playing for a team that isn’t in contention, if he indeed isn’t 100-percent healthy.
On the other hand, he isn’t doing his NBA draft stock any favors by riding the pine, and it was evident this summer that he came back to Morgantown for his junior season solely to better his game in the hopes that he could enter the draft this spring. Konate is already an elite rim protector and solid rebounder, but Konate needed to show scouts he could shoot from the outside, because very few 6’9” “true centers” exist in the NBA today. Konate needed to be just as good, if not better than he was in 2017-18, while also showing he could knock down jump shots. If he thinks playing in eight games and shooting 23 threes, many of which were ill-advised, selfish shots, will be enough of a sample size, he’s dreaming. I don’t care what his brother or anyone who is advising him instructs. He’s not the Draymond Green-esque player yet that scouts want him to be.
He’s getting bad advice that by not playing he’s going to get drafted.
The unfortunate circumstance for Mountaineer Nation is that this was supposed to be Konate’s season to be “the guy”, taking the reins from Jevon Carter. It’s doubtful it would have happened this way, but even if the overall game results would have been the same so far this season and West Virginia continued to come up short on the scoreboard, fans would have at least had signature Konate two-handed blocks, rim-crushing dunks, three pointers from Preston County, and double-doubles galore that they could have taken home as consolation prizes.
With him on the bench, the losses seem fruitless and uninspiring. Fans are starting to become apathetic with their attention stuck somewhere between Neal Brown’s cabinet hirings and recruiting, WVU baseball and next football season.
Truly, Konate would help this team compete. Derek Culver is being asked to do too much, and while he has the potential to be a great player for the Mountaineers, he’s making freshman-like mistakes. Culver’s turnovers caused by defensive double-teams and errant passes into traffic almost cost West Virginia against Kansas and were killers in the second half of the Baylor game. Because of his height and long arms, Culver can block shots, but he doesn’t have perfect timing on his jumps like Konate does, and he has been getting into foul trouble because of it. With Konate holding down the fort underneath the hoop, West Virginia could bring back the press and play with reckless abandonment, while only needing to cover shooters out wide from three because it has an enforcer inside.
Without him, the Mountaineers have no defensive identity, and when you pair that with shooting performances under 40-percent, this is what you get.
Huggins’ handling of the Konate’s situation has been perplexing to say the least. If Konate is indeed abandoning the team, Huggins wouldn’t be one to let that slide publicly or privately. That’s not who West Virginia is. Huggins has worked way too hard to build up this program. He’s not going to put his or the program’s reputation on the line for a guy who doesn’t care about the team. He would’ve told Konate to turn pro already.
Does Huggins think Konate will play again this season? If so, why did he say he was already lost for the season in the post-game press conference against Texas? Does Konate want to come back next season to play with Oscar Tshiebwe and Huggins wants him to get healthy for a run next year? Whatever the reasoning is, Huggins has a huge decision to make if Konate doesn’t come back soon.
West Virginia is nearing the tipping point of this becoming a lost season with the NIT even looking like a pipe dream. If that happens, the goals for the remaining six weeks of the season become finding out who can play, what can they do well and how can all of their skill sets fit together to form a cohesive unit once next season comes along and Big Oscar becomes the focal point.
For Mountaineer fans, for better or worse, supporting this team through the good times and the bad has been a tall task, and after Huggins has continued to call into question this team’s desire, why should fans care if the players don’t?
Who would have ever guessed this team would have fallen so far without Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, and why doesn’t Sagaba Konate want to lead this team in the ways that they did? Maybe the world will never know.