Most Of WVU’s Men’s Basketball Squad Slated To Return Next Season
It appears that the bulk of those Mountaineer men’s basketball players eligible to return for the 2020-21 season are planning to do so.
Third-year sophomore guard Brandon Knapper did enter the NCAA’s Transfer Portal a couple weeks ago, but multiple sources are indicating that all West Virginia’s other underclassmen are slated to return next season. Tony Caridi of West Virginia MetroNews was the first to report this news.
WVU’s top two scorers from this past year – freshman Oscar Tshiebwe and sophomore Derek Culver – were two Mountaineers some outsiders speculated may test the pro ranks this offseason, but no one from inside program ever indicated that either was leaving.
Now all indications are that all the underclassmen, other than Knapper, are going to return, including Tshiebwe and Culver.
The 6-foot-9, 258-pound Tshiebwe led WVU in both scoring (11.2 points per game) and rebounding (9.3 per game) this past season. Those averages rate him fourth in school history among all freshmen scorers behind only Warren Baker (16.6 in 1973-74), Chris Brooks (12.6 in 1987-88) and Mike Boyd (12.4 in 1990-91). And in terms of rebounding, only Baker (11.2) has ever averaged more among West Virginia’s all-time freshmen. A native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a graduate of Kennedy Catholic (Pa.) High School, Tshiebwe was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week four times this past season and in the postseason he was also a member of the league’s all-freshman and second-team all-conference squads. The National Association of Basketball Coaches recently named him to its five-member first-team District 8 unit.
Culver was West Virginia’s second-leading scorer (10.4 per game) and rebounder (8.6 per game) this past season. As a freshman in 2018-19, the 6-foot-10, 255-pound native of Youngstown, Ohio, finished as the team’s leading scorer (11.5 per game) and rebounder (9.9 per game). He was an honorable mention all-Big 12 selection this past year.
Despite their college success, neither Tshiebwe or Culver are currently listed in the majority of the mock NBA drafts as likely selections during the Association’s two-round 2020 draft, which will take place on June 25 in Brooklyn. With most travel and workouts with pro teams curtailed because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity for players to improve their draft stock at this point is limited. ESPN rates Tshiebwe as the 78th best overall player and 13th best center available, while Culver is not on that 105-player list.
The 30-team NBA features a two-round draft with a total of 60 players selected. From the Big 12 Iowa State sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton is rated as a likely top 10 pick, while Texas Tech freshman guard Jahmi’us Ramsey is also projected as a first-round choice. The Kansas trio of Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji, as well as Baylor’s Jared Butler, all are viewed as potential second-round picks. Dotson, Agaji and Butler each are sophomores, while Azubuike is a senior. So far Haliburton is the only of the league’s underclassmen to declared for the NBA draft.
West Virginia finished the virus-shortened 2019-20 season with a 21-10 record. From that squad it is slated will lose three seniors – Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler and Logan Routt – to graduation, and Knapper seems likely to transfer. But with the return of Tshiebwe, Culver and the six other scholarship underclassmen, the Mountaineers will bring back six of their top seven scorers and rebounders – all but Haley, 8.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game – for the 2020-21 campaign.
WVU still will have just two seniors on next year’s roster, as only Taz Sherman and Gabe Osabuohien will be in their final year of eligibility. Four others will be juniors (Culver, Emmitt Matthews, Jordan McCabe and Sean McNeil), two will be sophomores (Tshiebwe and Deuce McBride) and one will be a redshirt freshman (Jalen Bridges). In addition walk-on Spencer Macke will be a sophomore.
West Virginia has also signed three players to National Letters of Intent who will join the Mountaineers next year – 6-foot-10 Isaiah Cottrell and 6-foot-7 Taj Thweat, who are each coming from the prep ranks, and 6-foot-3 junior college guard Kedrian Johnson. Knapper’s departure leaves WVU head coach Bob Huggins with another scholarship available for this class if he wants to use it.