West Virginia impressively reconstructs basketball roster

West Virginia has undergone not one, but two roster reconstructions this off-season.

The first was a masterful job by the coaching staff, spearheaded by Director of Recruiting Jay Kuntz, in adding talented pieces such as center Jesse Edwards, point guard Kerr Kriisa and guard RaeQuan Battle to a roster that was returning plenty of potential.

However, after the resignation of head coach Bob Huggins in mid-June the roster fractured with four players exiting the program through the transfer portal and another that was considering his options.

On the positive front, West Virginia was able to lure back guard Jose Perez into the program after he initially entered the transfer portal and explored opportunities at places such as Michigan, Gonzaga and Oregon. Perez has one year of eligibility remaining and is a critical piece to retain.

While he didn’t suit up last year, Perez was named the MAAC Pre-Season Player of the Year prior to the 2022 season before he transferred. And his last year on the court Perez put together a robust stat line by averaging 18.9 points, 4.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game for Manhattan.

The Mountaineers also were able to keep forward Josiah Harris, guard Seth Wilson, guard Kobe Johnson and forward Patrick Suemnick.

But it wasn’t all positive as forward Tre Mitchell (Kentucky), point guard Joe Toussaint (Texas Tech), forward Mohamed Wague (Alabama) and forward James Okonkwo (North Carolina) all exited the basketball program through the transfer portal for different opportunities.

However, the show must go on in the world of college basketball which meant that head coach Josh Eilert and Kuntz had to get to work filling out the roster yet again.

Once the dust settled, the Mountaineers were left with nine scholarship players on the roster once Perez announced he would indeed return. That meant that the primary focus was filling out those slots with quality pieces that can help this basketball team win games.

Mission accomplished.

West Virginia has added four transfers to the mix in the past few weeks with Florida State guard Jeremiah Bembry, Georgetown forward Akok Akok, St. John’s forward Quinn Slazinski and Eastern Michigan guard Noah Farrakhan.

Bembry, 6-foot-6, is a versatile guard that can fill a number of roles given his length. He has the ability to score off the bounce and get to the rim while possessing the length to defend multiple positions. The point guard is an excellent distributor and understands where to go with the basketball.

Bembry didn’t play during his time with the Seminoles due to an injury but is a good addition considering his overall skill set and how he can step in a fill the vacancy left by Toussaint as a depth option behind Kriisa at the one which was a need.

The second piece was important as well as Slazinski is another versatile piece at 6-foot-9 that can stretch the floor with his shooting while displaying the ability to rebound the ball. He isn’t a direct fill in for what was lost in Mitchell but does bring a similar skill set that the roster simply didn’t have.

Slazinski has proven to be a productive role player during his time at the college level and helps to provide some versatility and scoring to space the floor at his size.

Akok is a 6-foot-10 big that plays with a strong motor and is highly athletic. He was productive during his time at Georgetown and can affect the game not only with his length and rebounding but his ability to step out and hit jump shots.

Farrakhan is an interesting addition in the sense that it isn’t clear if he will be eligible this season for the Mountaineers after transferring once already during his career. The junior is coming off a season where he averaged 12.1 points and 2.3 assists per contest last year and 16.6 per game the year before for the Eagles. He is a point guard that can score off the bounce as well as hit mid-range pull-ups and also is an efficient passer. If Farrakhan is not eligible, he would have two years left starting the following year and is a way to help bridge the gap with the roster moving forward.

All four fill major needs for the roster and are impressive additions considering the time on the calendar which they occurred. That’s good work and it is even better since the Mountaineers were able to keep Perez in the fold to help round out the roster at this stage.

The fifth addition came in the form of Israel forward Ofri Naveh. The 6-foot-7 international prospect impressed at the U-18 European Championships, There he Naveh averaged 10.8 points, 6 rebounds and 1 assists over five games. He also shot 55-percent from two, 46.2-percent from three and 73-percent from the line.

He has all four years left in his career and brings versatility at both guard and wing.

It was an off-season of building for the basketball program and the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for not only one but two different construction projects.

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