The only position where the Mountaineers’ 2020-21 men’s basketball team must find a new starter is at shooting guard, where last year’s first-teamer, Jermaine Haley, has graduated. Also departing after graduation is heavily used reserve Chase Harler.
A native of Vancouver, Canada, the 6-foot-7 Haley found a home at WVU the past two years after bouncing around from New Mexico State to Odessa (Texas) College in his early college days. He wound up starting 54 games combinde at West Virginia as a junior and senior, including all 30 he played in last season. A jack-of-all-trades capable of playing any position from point guard to power forward, Haley spent most of his time in 2019-20 at the shooting guard spot, though he wasn’t necessarily a great shooter. He made just 5-of-19 three-point attempts (26.3 percent) the entire season, as most of his points (8.9 per game) came on drives and post moves. While he was fourth on the team in scoring average, he did lead the club in shooting percentage (55.4 percent), assists (58) and steals (36), while also pulling down the third-most rebounds (4.3).
Add in the veteran experience of Harler, who averaged 4.4 points per game last year, and West Virginia has its biggest shoes to fill at the shooting guard spot.
Fortunately for the Mountaineers, there are a number of candidates who should be capable replacements.
Two of those arrived at WVU last year from the junior college ranks in terms of Taz Sherman (6-4, 185 lbs., Sr.) and Sean McNeil (6-3, 207 lbs., Jr.). A third option is Kedrian Johnson (6-3, 180 lbs., Jr.), another juco product who is enrolling at West Virginia this summer.
A native of the Houston, Texas, suburb of Missouri City, Sherman was a second-team NJCAA All-American in his final season at Collin (TX) College, averaging 25.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. It took him a while to adjust to the major college level, though, as he averaged just 3.5 points through his first 17 games with the Mountaineers last year. He began adapting in the second half of the season, though, doubling his scoring average to 7.1 points per game in the final 14 contests. That included a 20-point performance at Baylor when he hit 5-of-9 three-pointers. Sherman averaged 5.3 points per game for the season as a whole, hitting 33.3 percent of his three-point shots (28 of 34) and 86.4 percent of his foul shots (19 of 22). He also had 24 assists and 18 steals while suffering 29 turnovers.
Likewise, it also took McNeil a while to acclimate himself at the D-I level. A native of Union, Kentucky, he was initially headed to Division II power Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky after graduating from Cooper High School. He had a change of heart, though, and instead decided not to attend Bellarmine. Eventually he enrolled at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, and soon proved himself to be one of the elite juco scorers in the country. He averaged a nation’s-best 29.7 points per game in his one season at Sinclair and eventually found himself with over a dozen power conference scholarship offers.
McNeil picked WVU and received immediate playing time, but the scoring didn’t come quite as quickly. Illness and injury slowed him at times, though he did have a few strong early-season performances. He was 3-of-5 from three and scored 11 points against Pitt in the second game of the year. McNeil then knocked down 4-of-7 treys en route to 13 points against St. John’s a few weeks later and followed that with a 4-of-6 effort from behind the arc in scoring 10 points against Nicholls State. Consistency was lacking for McNeil in the first two-thirds of the season, though, as he averaged 3.9 points through the first 21 games. He started to find his touch late in the year, though, averaging 7.1 points in the final seven games. On the season, McNeil averaged 5.5 points per game, while make a team-best 29 three-pointers, converting 33.0 percent from that range.
With a year of major college experience under their belts, Sherman and McNeil would be the most obvious candidates to replace Haley as WVU’s starting shooting guard this coming season. Both will certainly see plenty of playing time, no matter who is on the floor for the opening tap, as long as they can improve upon their consistency.
The newcomer at that position, Johnson, can’t be dismissed either, though history shows making a quick, seamless leap from juco to major college is difficult.
Johnson averaged 25.5 points per game this past season at Temple (TX) College to go along with 5.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 3.4 steals. A native of Dallas, Texas, Johnson spent his first college year at St. Peters University but then left the New Jersey school and spent two seasons at TC. Now he’s at WVU.
While primarily shooting guards, both Sherman and Johnson also have the skills to slide over and help at the point guard position if need arises.
Though none of the three prime replacements for Haley has his size or all-around skills, each would appear to have a better offensive game, thus potentially allowing the Mountaineers get more scoring punch out of their shooting guard position.