New Season, New Attitude For WVU Hoops, Huggins
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It was an upbeat Bob Huggins, not the beat up Bob Huggins who left us a year ago, who came out of hibernation as his 2019-20 West Virginia men’s basketball team began practice on Tuesday for its summer excursion to Spain.
The Mountaineers leave for Spain on Aug. 3 and will play three games and do some sightseeing and team bonding before they return to Morgantown on Aug 13.
Taz Sherman and Ethan Richardson may not make the trip due to class requirements in junior college, but the heart of the team will be there including Jordan McCabe, who underwent minor knee surgery in April but is back practicing and expected to play.
Huggins envisions any number of things with this new team and he is now beginning to piece them together with none of the dark clouds that hung over last year’s 21-loss Mountaineer team, a team that was torn apart from within.
“Oscar (Tshiebwe, the 5-star recruit who is the biggest step toward changing the team’s prospects and attitude) was the last one in,” Huggins noted. “They’ve taken him under their wing. You can’t tell the difference between the old guys and the new guys. Of course, the old guys are not that old.”
With the departures of Esa Ahmad, Lamont West, Beetle Bolden, Sagaba Konate and Wesley Harris — which pretty much was the heart and lack of soul of last year’s team — gone, Huggins is developing a new look as well as a new attitude.
Or perhaps he is trying to develop his old look and his team’s old attitude.
“These guys get along great, hang together and are a lot like the really good teams we had in the past,” he said.
Where the older players became weights upon the direction the program was trying to go, this has a different feel to it, according to Huggins.
“A lot of it is the personalities,” Huggins said. “Jordan (McCabe) and Emmitt (Matthews) have been great trying to include everyone. They embraced some of the things we’ve always done.”
Huggins was talking of such team projects as visiting Children’s Hospital, skeet shooting and bowling, although Huggins decided it would be best if he passed a night at the bowling alley.
“I’d drop one on my foot,” he deadpanned.
The difference with this group is in attitude … partly because the team leaders are just in their second year here, not veterans like Ahmad, Bolden, West and Konate whose eyes were cast beyond establishing themselves as college players.
“This year you don’t have to coach enthusiasm,” he said. “A year ago, we had to coach effort and basketball and it’s hard to do both.”
So what does he envision that will make this team different than it was?
“We are going to play Oscar and Derek Culver at the same time,” Huggins said.
Culver, of course, was star of last year’s freshman class but was more a project than you might have imagined from someone so talented and who had delayed coming to school a year to attend prep school.
He was a double-double machine… after he sat out the first semester because of disciplinary problems.
They were not the kind of problems you normally associate with suspensions, not getting into trouble as much has just being irresponsible.
Huggins admits that even with a summer to work on it, all the corrections on that matter are not yet in place.
“How do I say this,” he said, hesitating after being asked the question. “He has a timeliness issue.”
Culver has a way of not showing up on time.
“We’ve got to make him understand he can’t do that,” Huggins said. “He has a long career ahead of him when he is out of here. It’s not bad stuff he does, when you think about guys doing bad stuff.
“But once in a while he doesn’t show up on time. We’re just trying to get him to the point where if and when he becomes a professional he’ll act like one.”
Huggins is drooling at the prospect of him and Tshiebwe on the floor together.
“A lot of rebounds … yeah, a lot of rebounds,” Huggins said when asked what he expected from the two. “We can go back to dominating the glass like we did at one time. We haven’t played two big together like that since I played Kenyon Martin and Jermaine Tate together at Cincinnati.’
And that team went into the post-season at No. 1.