Huggins Already Looking Forward To Next Season
It seemed to be the perfect time to touch base with Bob Huggins, it being his last day in Florida and knowing that there’s not a whole lot to do when it is being besieged with rain.
What’s more, it also was a day of import in another vein, for it was the first day of the NBA Combine, where the fate of his team for next season well may be decided as Sagaba Konate struts his stuff for the NBA scouts.
Huggins, however, didn’t seem all that concerned.
He’s taking Konate at his word, noting that, “he has said all along if he’s a first-round pick, he is going to the NBA.”
With that in mind, Huggins has lined up a back up plan, noting that he “has two 6-foot-10 guys coming in” in prep school phenom Derek Culver and junior college star Andrew Gordon.
Of Culver he notes that, “everyone would have been recruiting him if he hadn’t committed to us the year before.” And as for Gordon, “he was the best big junior college kid that was out there.”
And, Huggins rushes to remind you that he has a 7-footer coming back in Logan Routt, “who played pretty well down the stretch.”
Put it together, Huggins believes he’s more than adequately covered if Konate heads into the NBA and, if he returns, he gives WVU as good a situation as there is in college basketball for next season.
In fact, even with the losses to graduation of Jevon Carter, one of the best guards WVU has ever had, and Daxter Miles, a four-year starter, and the transfer of reserve Teddy Allen, who offered instant offense and constant headaches on defense, Huggins sees a team that may provide even a better chance to bust through the Sweet 16 and go deeply into the NCAA Tournament next season.
One of the keys, oddly enough, was here last season.
That would be point guard Brandon Knapper, who sat out last season after undergoing knee surgery.
“J.C. (Jevon Carter) said he was as hard to play against as anyone he played against because he’s so physically strong,” Huggins noted, speaking of Knapper’s play on the scout team. “He took care of the ball. He came in and really worked on his shot and at the end he was shooting the ball so much better. Had he not hurt his knee, he’d have played. He would have been, maybe, our first guy off the bench.”
And that, maybe more than anything else, is what WVU lacked last year, something Huggins has given a lot of thought to since the troubled Sweet 16 defeat by eventual champion Villanova.
“Hindsight, I think we probably played JC and Dax’ too much. We had to play them through some foul trouble and through some fatigue, which we didn’t do before. This group will allow us to stay fresher,” Huggins said.
“We had periods (last season) where it just looked like we got tired. Playing the way we play, you are going to get tired. We didn’t have the depth. There was such a drop-off when we took those two guys out because we just didn’t have the depth. This year, I don’t think it will be that way.
“We may, in a lot of instances, get stronger coming off the bench.”
Huggins went for depth and size in his recruiting, especially at guard where he would be playing Knapper and Beetle Bolden. His first high school recruit was a good one: Jordan McCabe, the slick point guard who was Mr. Basketball in Wisconsin but comes in at 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds.
But he added Trey Doomes, an athletic 6-foot-3 shooting guard from high school, along with 6-foot-6 Emmitt Mathews and junior college star Jermaine Haley, a 6-foot-8 forward who Huggins says, “is a really talented guy.”
The result is a different kind of team than last season’s, one that he believes will take care of the fatigue he saw down the stretch and that cost his team late in far too many games.
“The answer is more depth,” Huggins explained. “We had two guys who were very good, and Esa (Ahmad), at times, was very good. But before we had maybe five guys who were very good. So they were fresher. They didn’t make some of the mistakes that we made last year. When you go back and look at it, the mistakes were fatigue-related.
“So you say, why didn’t you play anyone else? The answer is pretty obvious. They were not near as good.”
This year, though, he sees talent up and down his lineup and bench.
“Hopefully, we have more guys who can do different kinds of things, so we may be more adaptable to different situations,” Huggins said.
And, as an added extra bonus, Huggins is expecting a different Lamont West as a shooter now that he has had surgery on his injured right wrist with which he played last season.
“That was why he couldn’t make shots,” Huggins explained. “The same thing happened to Nate (Adrian) as a sophomore, only Nate had a cyst and Lamont had a tear. You tear something in your right wrist and you can’t shoot. Think about the shots he made in his career — he makes open shots. He had open shots last year and they weren’t close.”
Now, think about all this and how WVU lost its games last season … blowing late leads in the second half while fatigued.
And, while you’re at it, think about the final loss in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 to Villanova.