By Cam Huffman
Basketball season has officially arrived.
The West Virginia University men’s basketball team will play its only open exhibition game of the season tonight, when Fairmont State visits the WVU Coliseum. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., and all tickets are $10. ROOT Sports will televise the action.
Tonight’s game will be the Mountaineer debut for former Shady Spring star Chase Connor, a freshman walk-on for WVU. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound guard, who was one of the state’s most prolific scorers while with the Tigers, is likely to see some playing time in the exhibition. So should Greenbrier East graduate Richard Romeo, another walk-on from southern West Virginia. The 5-11 sophomore guard saw a few minutes of action last year for WVU.
Today’s game will also provide Mountaineer fans their first opportunity to see a number of new scholarship players, including true freshmen Nathan Adrian, Brandon Watkins and Devin Williams, all of whom competed in the Scott Brown Memorial Classic at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center in April. Junior college transfer Remi Dibo won’t play because of a knee injury, and both Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon are still ineligible and awaiting official word from the NCAA.
Returning players for the Mountaineers include junior guards Gary Browne and Juwan Staten, sophomore guards Eron Harris and Terry Henderson and junior forward Kevin Noreen.
The Mountaineers will take the floor with just eight healthy scholarship players.
“I think it becomes a concern if we get in foul trouble,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins of the low number. “But we were pretty good in 2010-11, and we had like eight guys.
“I think we’ll shoot the ball well. We’ve done it in practice. I think (all the freshmen) have gotten better, but it’s just different (at the college level). So they still have a lot to learn.”
Fairmont State, coached by former Huggins assistant Jerrod Calhoun, with assistance from former WVU star guard Joe Mazzulla, is considered one of the preseason favorites in the new Mountain East Conference.
“This will be a good experience for us,” Calhoun told West Virginia MetroNews this week. “We’re not used to playing in big arenas in front of big crowds. It will be a little bit weird (for me) but once the jump ball goes up, it’s the game of basketball.
“I want to compete and help Huggs. To lose by 30 or 40 doesn’t help Huggs and doesn’t help us. So we want to compete.”
The Fighting Falcons’ roster includes the return of second-team All-West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection Brendan Cooper, as well as high school prospects and Division I transfers who helped Calhoun have one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Junior forward Mamadou Datt came to FSU from Duquesne and is expected to be a big force in the paint, as is 7-foot center Martins Abele, also a Duquesne transfer.
“We’re pretty excited about our team,” said Calhoun. “We have a good mix.”
Former Wyoming East High School star Chase Morgan is also a key member of the FSU squad. The 5-11, 170-pound junior guard played in all 32 games as a sophomore and was the team’s top 3-point star, knocking down 46 bombs. He averaged 7.4 points and 1.2 rebounds per game last season.
“He was a very, very good player for us last year,” said Calhoun. “He’s one of the best shooters I’ve been around.”
The exhibition game will serve as a tuneup for WVU’s regular season opener Friday at home against Mount St. Mary’s. The Mountaineers’ first road game will be Tuesday, Nov. 12, at Virginia Tech.
— E-mail: chuffman@
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