Juwan Staten, as you already know, was back at the LeBron James Skills Academy last week, one of 30 college players four years after he was one of 80 high school players invited to the event. That’s an estimable achievement when one considers the many moves Staten has made and the way his career arc has dipped and peaked.
But we know that he can play the game. It is fact. Science, even. He led the Big 12 in scoring and assists, something only done once before. He topped 500 points, 150 rebounds and 150 assists, something never done before at WVU. He was first-team all-conference and made the all-defense team. He is robust.
So, in theory, there wasn’t much he could learn about how to play the game that he didn’t already know. Not in a small number of days and not above what he was already doing on his own back on campus.
This is not to say the trip didn’t benefit his game, but if you thought he was going to pick up a teardrop on the Josh Pace level or learn to back down defenders at the Academy, you’d be mistaken. Could he tighten his handle and add ease to his crossover? Sure. Could he discover footwork drills to help him stay in better defensive position? Of course.
A lot of the positives, though, came from merely sharing the space with so many skilled peers. He belonged. He knew it and he realized others accepted it, as well. He looked around and made not of how people did things and he compared that to what he felt he did or needed to do. He knows as well as everyone that next season will be “definitely harder” and that in may ways the players “have to start all over again,” but he’s just as aware that he’s the guy who has to make it work. He’s the star. He’s the point guard. He’s the star point guard.
In that regard, being dropped into the environment he was in last week was good, good for him and good for WVU.
In the center of it all — in Las Vegas, by the way, which Staten considered an interesting coincidence because of the “magnitude of the distractions” — was James, who had a circus going on in the background, but never once let on that it bothered him. He’s an irresistible presence, one you can’t keep your eyes off of, and Staten wasn’t about to fight it.
“I watched everything,” Staten said. “I watched how he handled the media, how he handled all the attention he was getting. I watched his facial expressions. I looked for anything I could pick up on to help me in my situation.”
Staten’s situation is the leader of a team that’s missed the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons and has a .500 record over the past three seasons. He’ll also be running the offense and keying the defensive effort for a team that lost its second-, third- and fifth-leading scorers earlier than expected in the offseason and welcomes three junior college transfers, two high school freshmen and two players who were ineligible and sat out last season.
“It’s definitely harder,” Staten said. “You have to start all over again. It’s a whole new process again, and it starts off the court, not on it.”
Staten understands he’ll be the one getting all the attention from all directions.
“I noticed that he’s been through it so much that it doesn’t really faze him,” Staten said. “He’s used to it. He’s used to being stared at every time he goes somewhere. He’s used to being asked questions and being bombarded, but he carries himself like a professional. He answers every question the right way. He smiles and shakes hands with people. He’s real personable. Those are all things I picked up on.”