The Dominion Post  

Ahmad’s return will bring experience, rebounding to WVU

Created on:   Thu, Jan 11, 2018   12:02 AM

Last modified:   Thu, Jan 11, 2018   12:02 AM

The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN — Esa Ahmad will walk out onto the United Supermarkets Arena floor on Jan. 13, a different man.

That, according to WVU men’s basketball teammate Daxter Miles Jr., who has taken notice of Ahmad for much of this season.

“His attitude is different,” Miles said. “He missed the game. If you don’t come back with an attitude change, you probably shouldn’t be a basketball player.”

Everything the No. 2 Mountaineers (15-1, 4-0 Big 12) have seen from their 6-foot-8 forward has been behind the closed doors of practice, courtesy of a 16-game suspension handed down to Ahmad from the NCAA at the start of this season for not meeting eligibility requirements.

That changes Saturday, against No. 8 Texas Tech (14-2, 3-1), when the junior becomes eligible to play in his first game this season.

A season ago, Ahmad showed great development, averaging 11.3 points per game after averaging just less than five as a freshman. His shooting percentage increased to 48 percent from the field. He went from averaging 2.7 rebounds per game to 4.3.

“He made an impact a year ago,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “I would assume he will again.”

Ahmad’s return couldn’t have come at a better time.

Younger players like Teddy Allen, Lamont West and Sagaba Konate have begun to come into their own, giving WVU more options while Ahmad was out.

The schedule also toughens.

The Mountaineers have 15 regular-season games remaining, eight of those will come against teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25.

Of the teams remaining who are not ranked, both Baylor and Texas have great size in the middle and Kansas State forward Dean Wade can be a difficult matchup with his ability to play either on the outside or inside.

Then add a game against Kentucky, two games against Kansas and Texas Tech, as well as one more against Oklahoma and, “We’re going to need him every night,” Miles said.

With Ahmad’s versatility and added athleticism, the Mountaineers now find themselves in better position to defend.

Huggins is more interested in what Ahmad will bring in rebounding.

“He’s the best rebounding small forward in our league,” Huggins said. “It’s not even close.”

During the suspension, Ahmad was still permitted to practice and work out with his teammates. He was able to travel with the team.

Huggins and WVU players have said Ahmad has looked good in practices and has been active on the defensive end.

Huggins said the difference is Ahmad hasn’t had much opportunity to work offensively with guys like Miles and Jevon Carter yet this season.

“He’s only gone up against those guys,” Huggins said.

Maybe more important than anything else is Ahmad’s experience level.

He’s already started 32 Big 12 games in regular-season play, as well as played in six Big 12 tournament games and four NCAA tournament games.

If anyone knows what to expect this time of the season, it’s Ahmad.

“He’s got that killer instinct to his game that we need,” Miles said.