Anticipating the Return of Esa Ahmad
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — He is the forgotten man to Mountaineer fans, but rest assured that Esa Ahmad is on Bob Huggins’ mind every day.
He sees his suspended junior forward from Cleveland daily in practice.
He sees that 6-foot, 8-inch frame carrying around 230 pounds and maybe 15 points and five or six rebounds a game, carrying them now to the bench because of a mistake he made a year ago that came out after the NCAA Tournament.
He understands that every game he wins now without him is a gift from heaven, of sorts, for while these are talented players that he is sending out on the floor, they are also inexperienced players.
Right now he is playing seven sophomores — seven of them — along with a freshman and seniors Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles.
See, you can teach skills. You teach playbooks. You can even, to a degree, teach attitude.
You can’t teach experience.
“Here’s the thing,” Huggins said, “People look at us. (Wesley) Harris is a sophomore, Beetle (Bolden) is a sophomore. Sags (Konate Sagaba) is a sophomore. (Majiec) Bender is a sophomore, Chase (Harler) is a sophomore, Lamont West is a sophomore, Logan Routt is a sophomore and former walk on.
“We’re pretty young.”
That’s one reason the press hasn’t really been where it was last year. It couldn’t be. It was lacking people like Nathan Adrian and Tarik Phillip and Teyvon Myers. Those three had played 312 games.
They sensed things that sophomores have to think about. They knew what would happen two steps ahead of time, knew where their teammates were while these guys are in process of figuring who they are, let alone where they are.
That has affected the press, in part because getting in foul trouble hurts more now.
“There’s a tremendous drop off when you lose JC or Dax,” Huggins said, speaking of his senior guards Carter and Miles and thinking of the Pitt game when both had to go to the bench with four fouls.
“I’m not insinuating a talent drop. It’s an experience drop,” he said. “Last year we had Tarik. A couple of years go we had (Jaysean) Paige. We had Mazzulla coming off the bench.
“It’s our lack of experience that’s alarming.”
Now you may wonder how Ahmad comes into play with the press, even if he does offer experience. His reputation isn’t exactly that of being Jevon Carter, who may be as good a defensive player as any who have ever played at WVU.
Huggins offered a couple of statistics that were surprising, even to him.
“He was second in deflections, third in steals last year, I think,” Huggins said. “That kind of surprised me.”
It should have, for in reality Ahmad was fifth in steals with 31, or one per game, but he was third among returning players, behind Carter and Miles.
His return, which still has not been pinned down exactly but will come after the first semester exams are over and probably 16 or 17 games into the season, will add much to the team, first taking some of the burden of West and Wesley Harris. (Editor’s Note: Texas Tech is the likely game that Ahmad will be eligible to return.)
“Because he wasn’t there, Wes and Lamont got lot more work,” Huggins said. “That’s a pretty good rotation with those three.”
And, at his best, Ahmad brings a lot to the table.
“He’s our best interior passer, a lot because he’s played so many minutes,” Huggins said. “You look at small forwards around the league and he’s as good as any. His skill level has improved tremendously. His confidence has improved tremendously.”
Last year Ahmad was WVU’s second highest scorer behind Carter at 11.3 points per game, was third in rebounding and actually averaged slightly more assists than starting guard Daxter Miles Jr.