Erik Martin Pleased Konate Will Return To WVU For Another Season
West Virginia basketball player Sagaba Konate tested the NBA waters recently, but announced last week that he was returning to WVU for his junior season.
Konate’s position coach with the Mountaineers, Erik Martin, is obviously thrilled to have his star pupil back for another year.
“Sure, I’m happy that Sags is coming back. But no matter what his decision was, I wanted what was best for him,” explained Martin, who has served as an assistant coach on Bob Huggins’ staff for the past 13 seasons, the last 11 of which have been at WVU.
“At the end of the day, you send your kid to college. And when he’s done with college, you want him to be able to go get a job that pays him well,” noted the 1993 Cincinnati grad. “You can’t be opposed to someone who wants to get started on their career. It wasn’t my decision on whether it was the right move or not. We advised him, but at the end of the day, you have to do what is best for you and best for your family.”
Like Huggins, Martin was a sounding board for Konate, helping the 6-foot-8 Mountaineer sophomore along the path.
“Throughout the process, I spoke to Sags a few times. I spoke to him before he went for his first workout, and I told him to go out there and compete and play hard. How could we not try to give him advice and help him get through the process? These guys are like my sons, and I tried to help him,” said Martin. “I told him what I knew about the process. I told him to be himself, don’t try to be something you’re not. This is grown-man stuff.
“I gave him my blessing, not that he needed that. Go out there and compete and let the chips fall where they may. If the NBA guys say you’re a first-rounder, great. If you’re anything but a first-rounder, it makes sense to come back. Next year’s draft will be different. It won’t have any (Marvin) Bagleys or (Mo) Bambas or guys like that . Another season in college will just improve his chance to be drafted higher next year, if he improves upon what he did this year. And I think he’ll do that.”
Attending the recent NBA Combine exposed Konate to the pro scouts, and also the dedication it takes to be a pro player.
“The NBA people I talked to said he definitely improved his stock at the Combine,” stated Martin, who spent nine years playing professional basketball himself – four years in the CBA and five years overseas. “The thing that was good about this opportunity was he was around a bunch of guys who are about to turn basketball into what they do for a living. And that’s something that will rub off on you. This is how pros behave.”
Konate led West Virginia in blocks (116) and rebounds (7.6 per game) this past season, while finishing third in scoring (10.6 points per game). All those numbers were more than double from what he posted as a freshman. Further statistical improvement is what many point to for next year, but Martin thinks it will help his pro potential if the fiery native of Mali focuses on a couple other areas.
“I don’t want to say he needs to control his emotions,” Martin explained. “I’d rather have to calm a guy down than get a guy excited to play the game. So his emotions are a good thing. We just need to know how to channel those.
“The other thing is he needs to show is that he can guard on the perimeter. If there is a ball screen and we switch, he needs to be able to sit down and guard the ball,” added Martin, who is a native of West Covina, Calif. “That is what a lot of NBA guys are into now. I heard one NBA guy mention Jordan Bell with the Golden State Warriors (in comparison to Konate). He’s about as tall as Sags and protects the rim, but he can also guard the ball. It’s hard for anyone in the world to guard James Harden, but there is a spot in the NBA for (Konate’s) skillset. In his first two years with us, he has not yet shown that he can guard on the perimeter, whether it is a guard or forward. But that’s something we can work on this summer, and he can be prepared to do that next year.
“I truly believe that if Sags goes back (to the NBA draft pool) next year and he’s improved, I don’t think there’s any doubt he will be a first-round pick.”