The Mountaineer men’s basketball team still has a scholarship available for the 2020-21 season, but that doesn’t mean it is going to fill that opening.
WVU head coach Bob Huggins has said several times over the past couple of months that he may award that final scholarship but only if the prospect is the right fit, both in terms of talent and attitude.
His opinion has not changed.
“We’re still having some people contact us and we’re contacting people,” said Huggins recently. “We could use it, but we don’t have to.”
While the NCAA allows Division I men’s basketball teams to have 13 scholarship players per season, WVU is one short of that maximum at this point.
“I think 12 is a good number for us. I don’t want to jam things up,” explained Huggins, who is preparing for his 14th season as the head coach of his alma mater. “We have two (scholarship) point guards (junior Jordan McCabe and sophomore Deuce McBride), and I think if you have three, that’s really hard on the players.”
McCabe and McBride are two of WVU’s eight scholarship returnees, which also include junior forward Derek Culver, junior forward Emmitt Matthews, junior guard Sean McNeil, senior forward Gabe Osabuohien, senior guard Taz Sherman and junior forward Oscar Tshiebwe. In addition, walk-on Spencer Macke is slated to return for his sophomore season.
“We’re still young; let’s make no mistake about it,” stated Huggins, who is fifth-winningest active Division I men’s basketball coach with a record of 881-372. “Our experienced guys are still just juniors, though now they have two years of experience instead of just one. We’re still young, but we’re talented and one of the key things is that we have great attitudes on this team.”
To West Virginia’s group of returners, the Mountaineers will add 6-foot-7 forward Jalen Bridges, who redshirted last season as a true freshman though he was able to practice the complete year with the team. Also WVU has three newcomers joining the program in 6-foot-3 junior college shooting guard Kedrian Johnson and a pair of freshmen in 6-foot-7 forward Taj Thweatt and 6-foot-10 forward Isaiah Cottrell.
“I think our wings are really good. I don’t know how many people in the league have an Emmitt Matthews and someone like J.B. (Jalen Bridges) playing on the wing,” said Huggins. “Those two guys are 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8. They are long, athletic, can rebound, both can guard and can make shots. Once J.B. got comfortable, he really made shots (in practice) a year ago.
“We’re bringing in a very talented wing guy, albeit not experienced and not knowing what we need done,” said Huggins of Johnson. “But I think as the season goes on, he certainly will.”
In all, the 2020-21 Mountaineer roster currently shows three point guards (McCabe, McBride and Macke), three shooting guards (Sherman, McNeil and Johnson), three small forwards (Matthews, Bridges and Thweatt) and four post players (Culver, Tshiebwe, Osabuohien and Cottrell) who will split the power forward and center duties.
There certainly could be room for one more scholarship player on this team, but Huggins likes the attitudes of his current players and doesn’t want to mess up that chemistry.
“They like each other,” said WVU’s veteran head coach of this year’s squad. “That’s the whole thing we’re going through now – ‘Man, when do we get to get back with our teammates?’ Going home is great for a little while, but then they want to get back and get with their guys.”
The Mountaineers were 21-10 this past year when COVID-19 abruptly shut down the Big 12 Championships just as they were getting underway and prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament. Both events were eventually cancelled, and ultimately WVU’s basketball players, like basically all the University’s students, were released to go home, as in-person classes were halted and all academic work shifted to on-line studies.
Those basketball student-athletes have remained at home the past few months but will soon be able to come back to Morgantown and start workouts. The Big 12 is allowing men’s and women’s basketball players to begin on-campus voluntary summer workouts on July 6. Then on July 20, required summer activities will be permissible with coaches able to instruct on-court drills for up to eight hours per week. Schools can continue that workout schedule until the start of their fall semesters, which for WVU is Aug. 19.