MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It’s really very simple in Bob Huggins’ mind.
If you want to win big basketball games you have to play big … and that was what he set out to do this past off-season after losing both Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe last season.
To him, winning at basketball comes down to two main components, rebounding and defense, and both require you have height to reach such heights.
The closer to the rim your men stand, the closer to the basketball gods they are, and he was looking at having a team that didn’t seem have those ingredients coming back.
“We purposely went out and tried to get guys who could block shots,” he said on Tuesday as he prepared for Friday night’s 7 p.m., post-Thanksgiving meeting with Eastern Kentucky at the Coliseum .
The two featured acquisitions were Dimon Carrigan, who transferred in from Florida International and Pauly Paulicap, a transfer from DePaul.
Carrigan was the nation’s No. 2 shot blocker and Paulicap was also known for his shot blocking and rebounding at DePaul.
“We need those guys to be able to do what they did at a lower level at this level. This is as good a league, as good a basketball (as there is) in the country,” Huggins said.
Carrigan’s journey, in particular, was an interesting one that sent him from Massachusetts, where he carried the big man tradition of Patrick Ewing at Cambridge Rindge & Latin, the high school Ewing attended, to Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, to Odessa Junior College in West Texas, to Florida International and now to WVU.
While following in Hall of Famer Ewing’s footsteps, he was Mr. Basketball in the state of Massachusetts.
“You are standing on the shoulders of a giant when you are in Massachusetts and go to Cambridge Latin,” he said. “We have Rumeal Robinson and a couple of other dudes before that went to the league. But Patrick’s just the biggest name. For me, to be a center, I felt there was a lot of pressure.”
He got to meet Ewing, now coaching at Georgetown, and treasures a picture he has from the first time he met him.
He had planned to attend prep school Woodstock Academy out of high school.
“It didn’t work out there. I left in three days,” he said. “I ended up going to Bunker Hill Community College with my former AAU coach. He helped me get my confidence back in the game because after that prep school situation I lost a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities.
“He told me after half a year I ought to leave. I was just killing them in a D-3 JUCO conference. So I went to Eastern Florida and didn’t like it there after two weeks of starting there.”
Next stop, Odessa.
“That was a great fit for me. I loved everything they did there,” Carrigan, at 6-10 maybe the world’s tallest cowboy, said.
“You’d be surprised how many of us wind up in West Texas and Odessa,” Carrigan said. “We had a couple of dudes that were there. Culturally, it was different. I ate a lot of Spanish food and Mexican food, but other than that it was a great experience.
“I loved being in west Texas, except for all the oil fields. I’d never seen that before.”
Then came the move to Florida International.
“I picked FIU over a lot of other schools because of what they brought and what they said they would bring out of me,” he said. “They had a pick and roll system there and that fits my athleticism a lot. You can catch me on lobs. That fits me best and the game plan they set for me fit.”
Huggins actually tried to get Carrigan out of JUCO.
“When I was at Bunker Hill, West Virginia was playing in the NCAA Tournament. I was at a practice and you all recruited me out of D3 JUCO,” he said. “The fact was that when I entered the transfer portal for this fifth year, the love was still there. What made me end up at West Virginia was loyalty.”
He was going to the big time finally.
“Division 3 JUCO is the trenches compared to here, you don’t get nothing compared to here. You might get a nice court, depending on where you are, but most schools aren’t funded by alums. Most of the money goes back into the school, especially at a community college,” he said.
“You see a difference in nutrition, in travel, in competition,” he continued. “The main thing for me was nutrition. I just couldn’t eat right there. When I came here I gained 35 pounds in three months.”
Putting his name into the transfer portal was a gamble, Carrigan admitted.
“I was beyond scared. What people don’t think of is you have 3,000 kids getting offers. Every year the transfer number is increasing. Now there’s like 1,700 in there. Put that together and that’s 4,000 to 5,000 kids, plus the JUCO kids with offers.
“That’s really scary, especially knowing seniors can come back (due to an extra year granted due to COVID), so there’s a lot of teams that might have interest in you but you might not have interest in that school. Luckily, I had something a lot of others couldn’t do, a high blocking percentage.
“I was one of the lucky ones who was able to stay in D-1. I know a lot of kids had to go to a lower level. My main goal was to test myself at a higher level. I felt I could compete with anybody so I wanted to just move up. Conference USA was probably a Top 10 conference in the country and I loved it, I played against a lot of good people, people who got drafted.”
The result of bringing Carrigan and Paulicap in are that WVU currently is second in the Big 12 in blocked shots, but the rebounding needs work.
“I’d say we’re not very good. I think before I said we were horrible. We’ve gone from horrible to not very good,” Huggins said of any perceived improvement as the year as gone on.
Asked to name his best rebounder, Huggins responded:
“Whoever the ball bounces to. We are going to send four guys. If you watch, Taz Sherman is a good offensive rebounder and he’s a guard.”