MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Few players have defined West Virginia’s roller-coaster season more than firebrand Erik Stevenson.
The Mountaineer will play his final game at the WVU Coliseum on Saturday less than a year after first stepping on the Morgantown campus. He will walk across the famed carpet along with five of his teammates to say goodbye to a sold-out Coliseum crowd for the final time.
Interestingly enough, all six of those seniors — whether it’s Tre Mitchell, who has bounced around the country like Stevenson, or Emmitt Matthews Jr., who returned to WVU after a “vacation” — are all products of the transfer portal.
Only one has donned as many uniforms as Stevenson. WVU’s leading scorer is on his fourth Division I program and, according to him, his most meaningful.
“It’s been a journey for me,” Stevenson said. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs. Seems like it’s more downs than ups. I’ve been everywhere, been through pretty much everything you could think of.”
Stevenson has been on good teams, like the 2019-20 Wichita State squad that won 24 games before losing its chance at the NCAA Tournament because of COVID-19. He’s also been on some bad ones, like Washington, which won just five games the following year and played no postseason basketball.
The Lacey, Washington native’s road has taken him from Wichita State to Washington, then South Carolina to WVU. Each stop has contained some of the most fiery names in college basketball, including Gregg Marshall, Frank Martin, and of course, Bob Huggins.
“I’ve heard probably every insult in the book from coaching,” Stevenson joked. “I’ve seen a lot of stuff with my own two eyes that’s like, alright, this is basketball, this is high-level basketball. But just the relationships at four schools — the managers, the staff, obviously, the program itself — it’s just been fun building relationships with a lot of people. Moving wasn’t fun, but basketball is fun.”
Stevenson credits Huggins with his biggest proverbial growth spurt, helping him ground his bombastic personality. In his words, Stevenson has “narrowed it down” after working with Huggins this season.
“Thanks to Coach Huggs and his threats and all that,” Stevenson said. “He’s definitely got me on the right path.”
This past year at WVU has been special for the guard as he looks to wrap up his best individual season in college hoops. He scores 15.2 points per game, by far a career high, and has recorded eight of his 17 games with 20-plus points in the Old Gold and Blue jersey.
He has also had the privilege of playing in front of family at home game. Stevenson’s immediate family were present during his one season at Washington, but this season, his extended relatives from Cumberland, Maryland have made the trek to Morgantown to see him play.
At a team level, Stevenson is on the verge of something he has dreamt about since he was a kid: an NCAA Tournament berth. He has only had one real chance at a trip to the Big Dance, and that came as a Shocker in 2020.
Stevenson recalled the shock and confusion expressed around the Wichita State locker room when the team heard the news ahead of the AAC Tournament. Little did he know that he wouldn’t get a shot at a national title for another three years.
That chance is certainly far from a lock. WVU is on the bubble (albeit, on its good side) and will need to win against Kansas State on Saturday to truly solidify its spot in the 68-team field.
“We would love to win this game Saturday, that would just put us in the tournament safely,” Stevenson said. “…I don’t know how many teams have ever been to…the Tournament with 17 wins, but our resume and our strength of schedule and all that stuff, I think we would still get in at the worst as a play-in in Dayton.”