West Virginia’s Bolden Knows One Racer Well
When the NCAA Tournament selection show on Sunday revealed West Virginia’s first round opponent, many Mountaineers quickly pulled out their smart phones to learn a little about their opening foe – Murray State.
But one WVU already knew something about the Ohio Valley Conference champion and in fact quickly texted the leader Racer.
West Virginia sophomore guard Beetle Bolden spent a week traveling and rooming with Murray State guard Jonathan Stark last summer. The two were teammates for the Global Sports Academy squad, which was a team made up of U.S. college players that spent a week touring Spain in early August and playing four basketball games against Spanish squads along the way.
“He’s a good dude,” Bolden said of Stark. “We got close.
“He’s a crafty player and very good. He’s the most valuable player of his conference, the OVC, so he’s a really good player.”
A native of Munford, Tenn., which is near Memphis, Stark began his college career at Tulane. But after two seasons with the Green Wave, he transferred to Murray State, which is located in the southwest corner of Kentucky just a couple hours from his hometown. When he became eligible for the Racers last season, he quickly became the team’s top offensive threat, averaging 21.9 points a game. He basically replicated those numbers this year, averaging 21.8 points a game, which for the second straight season topped the OVC. He pumped in a school-record 108 three-pointers in 2016-17 and then has topped that by one so far this season.
“He can score on all levels of the court,” Bolden said of Stark. “He can shoot the three, and he can drive it. He can also get his teammates open shots (122 assists), and he can finish at the rim. He’ll hit crazy shots, so we’ll have to do a good job of guarding him.
“He’s a shorter-version of Trae Young. Maybe not quite as athletic, but he can shoot it just like him.”
A native of the Cincinnati suburb of Covington, Ky., Bolden hasn’t put up numbers like Stark this year, but he has provided the Mountaineers with a spark, usually coming off the bench though he did start three games when senior Daxter Miles was ill. Beetle has averaged 8.9 points on the season, and his three-point shooting percentage of .416 not only leads WVU but is even six one-hundredths better than his roomy from Spain, though on 105 less attempts.
Bolden and Stark are also similar in size. Both are listed a 6-foot, but don’t believe it for either. Beetle is lucky if he’s 5-foot-10, and in photos from the Global Sports tour, Stark is eye-to-eye with him. But despite their lack of height in a game filled with giants, each can heat up offensively.
“Me and him together, we were really killin’ them over there,” smiled Bolden thinking back to the summer tour in which Global Sports went 4-0. “It was pretty fun. He’s a pretty good player.”
The trip to Spain wasn’t all business, though.
“We played a few games, and we also did some sightseeing, went on a few tours,” noted Bolden. “It’s a beautiful place.”
Because the tour was fairly short, Beetle doesn’t feel he has an in-depth scouting report on Stark.
“We didn’t really have much time to play against each other or practice against other,” explained the Mountaineer redshirt sophomore, “so the film we watch will probably be more valuable than anything I can add. He is a good player; there’s no doubt about that.”
Murray State brings a 26-5 record and a nation’s best 13-game winning streak to San Diego. But “Press Virginia’s” unique defensive style makes the 24-10 Mountaineers a tough matchup for opponent’s who haven’t faced it before.
“They say it is hard to prepare for our press,” noted Bolden. “In the conference, everybody knows each other so well and they know how we play. But when it’s teams that haven’t played us all year, I think it’s hard to prepare for us.”
WVU, which is the No. 5 seed in the East region, must first get by No. 12 seed Murray State in round one, and then it would meet the winner of No. 4 Wichita State and No. 13 Marshall in round two on Sunday.
Bolden knows what to expect once he gets to the NCAA Tournament, having helped West Virginia advance to the Sweet 16 last year. He says he won’t be overwhelmed by the moment.
“Honestly, I think (the NCAA Tournament) is a lot like the Big 12 Tournament,” said Beetle. “Our conference is very good, and all the teams do a good job of filling the Sprint Center up. The atmosphere there is crazy, and the NCAA isn’t much different. I think we’ll be ready for it.”