Finding A Way To Communicate May Be WVU Hoops’ Top 2022-23 Task

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins looks for an explanation after a Mountaineer error

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It is the most famous line from one of the best movies Paul Newman ever made, and while that movie came out more than half a century ago, it fits better today than it did even then.

Newman’s titular character in Cool Hand Luke is a prisoner on a chain gang and has just been whipped for talking back to the man in charge of the prison at which he is incarcerated, whom they called “Captain.” Well, as Luke lay in a ditch, the “Captain” looked out at the other prisoners and proclaimed:

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

And so it is with the West Virginia men’s basketball program.

At the start of the last season, WVU fans were in love with their coach, Bob Huggins. a Morgantown native, a man who had ended the previous season with his 900th career victory, a man who had taken the school to the Final Four with his best team since returning to his alma mater.

He had given back to the community in so many ways outside of basketball that he had risen to legendary heights, and a 13-2 start created a fan frenzy as it became more and more apparent that this was the year he would finally be elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Much of this good feeling would soon  unravel with a pair of seven-game losing streaks around a one-game winning streak.

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Social media changed its tune, wondering if Huggins was losing his grip on his team, a theme that would grow as Oscar Tshiebwe, who transferred out in mid-season the previous year, put together a season that would win him National Player of the Year honors.

When this season ended with a 16-17 record and no NCAA bid, followed by the transfers of shooting guard Sean McNeil, young forward Isaiah Cottrell and forward Jalen Bridges, who hailed from just down the road in Fairmont and opted to attend a conference rival, Baylor, the discussion reached a fever pitch.

People were questioning Huggins’ “failure to communicate” with today’s generation, as they saw it, a conversation that picked up more steam after Bridges went on a podcast this week and said:

“I’d rather be taught than just yelled at. I can take yelling if there’s teaching, too. I’m not saying there was no teaching, it was just they’d rather yell at you and put you on the treadmill rather than show you what to do and how to fix it and not make that same mistake again. It’s like a punishment over trying to get better.

“It’s like you’re so scared of messing up that it makes you want to learn on your own how to do the right thing.”

It is, of course, an inane discussion, for the Huggins method of tough love has survived for 40 years on the job in college basketball. If there is a generational gap, it is the younger generation that has to understand that maybe a generation that delivered Larry Bird and Jerry West and Michael Jordan and somany athletes from other sports who were pushed to the heights knows what it is doing.

We all know the world has changed, and you can’t make everyone have short hair and  follow a curfew any longer. As salaries in professional sports inflated, so did ego, and now the same thing is following in collegiate sports … and dripping down into high school sports, where character is being built at its foundation.

This is not to say that coach has to be like Cool Hand Luke’s “Captain,” but he does have to be the voice at the top. You don’t take a vote on the starting lineup or whether to play man or zone. You have to make it team first, player second.

Anyone who knows Huggins understands you do not listen to how he says things, but to what he says. He does and always has put his players first.

Just the other day, his former player at Cincinnati, Kenyon Martin, the best player he ever coached, appeared on a cable talk show. He was a long-time NBA player. He was asked who was the best coach he ever played for.

He answered quickly … “Bob Huggins.”

Why?

“How he is with his guys,” Martin said. “He cares about his guys. How he gets his guys to buy in. The thing that he says to us behind the scenes to get you to believe that you can accomplish greatness. What he got out of me, how he pushed me to be who I am.

“You know, so I think that makes a great coach. He made me be a better me. I came to Cincinnati — I had certain attributes, but he made me fine-tune those things and work on things that he saw I needed to work on. And he told me what those things were. He didn’t hold back and he pushed me. One thing you’re gonna do — you’re going to play hard when you play for Bob Huggins.”

Was he yelled at by Huggins? You bet. Was he scared sometimes?

Yes.

“It was a good fear,” he said.

Now, that process, in whatever form, has to begin again as WVU tries to build a team from a number of new and different parts.

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  • #181761

    MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It is the most famous line from one of the best movies Paul Newman ever made, and while that movie came out more than half a centu
    [See the full post at: Finding A Way To Communicate May Be WVU Hoops’ Top 2022-23 Task]

    #181762

    good article…

    #181764

    This is a good article. You are putting out some good content, Bob.

    #181766

    Screams to me that just as expected, over the last couple of seasons, we had some players who completely lacked mental toughness.  Didn’t need to read that in an article to realize it either.  Was quite obvious when watching our games.

    #181767

    I understand the point of this piece and I can’t say that I generally disagree. But shouldn’t we wait to see how things turn out for JB and how Huggs does in the near future before a piece like this is published? What if JB flourishes and Huggs teams waddle around .500 the next couple of seasons?

    And… Huggs has gotten a lot of miles out of Kenyon Martin references over the years. But how long has it been since he played for Huggs? Even Huggs is different than he was back then …and that’s according to Huggs.

    But a piece like this will probably keep you in the good graces of Huggs come press conference time.

     

    #181769

    I’m a ride or die fan with Huggs. I listened to JB on the FFC podcast and he was all over the place with his answers. John Flowers asked the difficult questions but I don’t feel JB was giving what I’d call genuine answers. Over all it seems that JB got caught up in Social Media and it was hard for him to handle. Also how could JB not know how it was going to be with Huggs as a coach. Surely a young man that lived in the shadow of the colosseum would know what he was getting in to. I just think he was a little soft.

    #181793

    Huggs puts players into positions where they are best suited and can flourish.

    Sags needed to play outside to develop to the next level.  Huggs gave him the chance and started him at 4 with Derek in the paint.  For whatever reason, Sags just couldn’t keep his feet out of the paint when he played with Derek and it was obvious they couldn’t be on the floor together.  Given every chance to develop more outside Sags didn’t take that option.  And that was one of his complaints when he left for UK.  So what happened there?  He played in the paint almost 100% of the time and flourished.  Could have done the same here.  But what happened to him developing his outside game?  NADA…..  So he has to come back for another year to develop????  Not going to be a first rounder and maybe at best mid 2nd rounder if he went out this year.

    Fast Forward to Jalen Bridges.  From early on we saw posts that he wanted to develop and play as a 2.  Here’s the problem.  Huggs and staff evaluated his abilities and knew he didn’t have the foot speed, ball handling or D to play the 2.  Even when he was put up against opponents Wings his D was suspect.  Just because you want to play a position and your Daddy says you should play a position doesn’t mean that you have the ability to play there.  JB’s comments in his FFC interview about not getting screens.  Pauly, Dimon and Gabe were very good at setting screens and Gabe extremely good at distributing the ball.  It takes two for a screen.  You have to move with and without the ball to get open.  Then he talked about Drew developing NBA Wings.  Then he says that he’s a 2.  What you want and what your abilities are many times at odds.

    All of this is BS.  Just a reason for leaving.  Good luck to him on his way out.  Hope he finds happiness in Waco.

    #181804

    Butlereer, do you mean Oscar and not Sags?

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