Eyes On Next Season For WVU Returnees
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The question no longer is ‘How bad is this year’s West Virginia basketball team?’.
Coach Bob Huggins answered it in the ashes of Monday night’s embarrassing 109-91 home loss to Coastal Carolina in a pay-to-get-your-fanny-in tournament called the CBI.
Huggins labeled the suspension-riddled 15-21 year “one of the worst seasons in the history of West Virginia basketball” and it ended, quite fittingly, giving up the most points ever by a West Virginia basketball team in the Coliseum.
But the working word is that it ended and now the question turns from how bad it was to how good it will be next year and that answer may surprise you.
“People can shake their head, laugh and stuff, whatever they want to do, but I think you shouldn’t be surprised if this is a Final Four team next year, as crazy as that sounds coming off a CBI loss,” said freshman point guard Jordan McCabe.
“This is going to be a very, very good team due to the fact we will be the most motivated team in the country.”
Maybe. Maybe not.
We’ve been through this before, but if Sagaba Konate opts to come back and join Derek Culver in the front court along with five-star recruit Oscar Tshiebwe, it could be a Kentucky-like front line and with the experience McCabe and the quickly-improving Emmitt Matthews, along with Jermaine Haley and Chase Harler, gained, this has the makings from a talent point of view of a team capable of competing for a Big 12 championship.
“Me and Jordan have a lot of conversations about the possibilities of what we can do and about what we have done in the past,” Haley said after closing his first season out at West Virginia with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“We have to come together as a unit and next year will make sure we play all game. I’m excited about it. I think we are going to be dangerous.”
“Hopefully there is a culture shift next year. I’m going to do everything I can to see that there is,” McCabe said before revealing that is to undergo minor knee surgery sometime soon that will put him out of action for about a month but that shouldn’t affect him next year.
“I’m going to try to get everyone on the same page. There’s not going to be any exceptions — do right or get out!”
This the kind of talk that Huggins not only wants to hear, but is going to demand.
He took the blame or this season’s disaster for being too soft on his players, from forfeiting his principals to help individuals while it wound up destroying his team.
He vowed that is over.
“It’s what I told them: You show us every day whether you really want to be a part something special, or you don’t,” Huggins said. “A lot of them, on a daily basis, tell me, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ because they’re not doing the right things. You know, that’s that thing, you try to help them. I tried to help a bunch of guys this year, and it’s one of the worst seasons in the history of West Virginia basketball, because I hurt the whole.
“I am never going to do that again. I have never done that before. I mean, I have gotten rid of my best player before, because he was hurting everyone else, and we became much, much better.
“(At Cincinnati) we went to the NCAA tournament with three football players, two tight ends and a linebacker. (We) lost by four to Michigan, and I had gotten rid of my best player, because he wouldn’t do it right.
“Let me just say, here’s the thing that bothers me: Joe Alexander went from not playing very much to being one of the better players in the country. Da’Sean Butler went from being a guy Rutgers didn’t even offer, and he lives right down the road, to one of the best players in America.
(At Cincinnati) Kenyon Martin came in and couldn’t even make a shot from five feet, ended up being, unanimously, the best player in America. Danny Fortson came in, and Danny was a high-school All-American, but Danny was a terrible free-throw shooter. But they worked, they improved, they listened, they tried.
“They didn’t sit on their (butt) and say, ‘I’m going to be the best player in the country.’ They were in the gym, they were asking for help. They were doing things that weren’t easy. They were hard; they were doing hard things, pushing themselves.”
And that is what he is going to stress all off-season, through preseason practice and into the new year and, it seems, he has players now eager to follow his lead.
“The reality is we are going to have to put things back together,” McCabe said. “There have been plenty of games this year that have been close that we lost. You sit there and burn for a little bit but then you have to move on.
“If you lose a game at the end of the season, you can kind of use that. We didn’t want to lose. We have to come to grip with it. That will burn in our minds and our hearts until next season when we come back to play.
“That’s going to be the motivator, the drive. If you figure it out or find something, then let it be this game.”
“I don’t think [the Coastal Carolina game] is something we should hang our heads about. I know it ends our season, but everybody knows the nucleus that comes back next year is going to be dangerous,” Matthews said.
“The team we have next year, with the new recruits. I’m excited.”