Huggins Looking At Youngsters, But Hasn’t Given Up On Vets

Huggins Looking At Youngsters, But Hasn’t Given Up On Vets


MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–West Virginia head basketball coach Bob Huggins said it’s too early to give up on the 2018-19 season and turn his focus on next year.

But he certainly sent a message to his veteran players Esa Ahmad and Wes Harris Saturday that their effort must improve. Neither saw action in the game against Oklahoma State at the WVU Coliseum. Ahmad and Harris had been No. 1 and No. 2 for the Mountaineers in terms of minutes played prior to the weekend, but they stayed glued to the bench against the Cowboys.

West Virginia guard Jermaine Haley looks for a passing lane

Of the 200 individual player minutes available for WVU Saturday, 109 were recorded by Mountaineers who either weren’t on the team or didn’t see any action last year.

West Virginia’s youth movement didn’t pay great dividends, as OSU (8-8/2-2) left Morgantown with an 85-77 victory. It was the third straight win for the Pokes in the Coliseum, who are now 5-2 in West Virginia’s home venue since WVU joined the Big 12 in 2012. No other Big 12 team besides Oklahoma State has a winning record at the Coliseum in that time.

Despite the loss, many of the Mountaineers felt it was a learning step. Freshman center Derek Culver played in just the sixth game of his college career, and the 6-foot-10 man-child recorded his third double-double, finishing with 15 points and 15 rebounds. Fellow freshman Trey Doomes, who hadn’t played in a game prior to Saturday, had his redshirt pulled. He saw eight minutes of action, and while he didn’t score, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound guard did have a couple rebounds and an assist.

“Trey was amped for this moment,” explained Culver, who made his own debut less than three weeks ago. “He was ready for the moment. If you know Trey, he’s a very humble kid who works hard every day, goes to class and then is the first one at practice. That’s just a testament to what kind of player he is. Everything is going to work out for him.”

Culver has reached double figures in scoring in five of the six games in which he has appeared, after sitting out the first semester because of suspension. He’s also averaging 9.3 rebounds per game.

The Mountaineers are going to have to continue to lean on the post player from Youngstown, Ohio, for quite a while longer. Junior center Sagaba Konate has missed the past seven games as he continues to rehab his injured knee. He is still sporting a brace but was off crutches Saturday for the first time in several weeks. Despite that positive sign, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said he’s still not certain when Konate will return. While Huggins didn’t say it, the underlying question is IF Kontate will return to game action this season.

With Konate still hurting and Huggins deciding not to play his only senior in Ahmad, as well as experienced junior in Harris, WVU put a very young lineup on the floor against OSU. Seven of the 11 Mountaineers who saw action Saturday didn’t see any last year.

Despite the youth movement, Huggins said he’s not ready to give up on Ahmad, Harris or the team as a whole.

“All of those guys are like my kids, just like all of the guys that I’ve had in the past,” the WVU coach explained. “As a parent, sometimes, you want more for your children than they want from themselves. That’s a very frustrating situation to be in. I expect more from those guys sometimes than, I don’t want to speak for them. I don’t want to say what they expect from themselves, because I don’t know that. But we have to all be on the same page. We all have to be working for the same goal.”

Huggins also said Ahmad and Harris aren’t permanently confined to the bench.

“We’re going to practice tomorrow at 1:00. I would assume (the pair will have a chance to earn their way back onto the court),” said Huggins, after seeing his club fall to 8-8 overall and 0-4 in Big 12 play. “I don’t have a doghouse. You guys think I’m mean and I have a doghouse. I’ve never had a doghouse. But I am, at times, a very frustrated parent.”

That frustration isn’t focused on junior guard Beetle Bolden, who has battled injuries all season but came through with a career-high 31 points in the loss to Oklahoma State.

And obviously Culver has been a force almost every game since he finally got on the court.

“What did he get? 15 (points) and 15 (rebounds) today?” asked Huggins. “That’s a pretty good day’s work, particularly when we don’t throw him the ball.

“It’s just been hard. We take Trey out of the redshirt situation, because I thought we were going to need him. He’s deserved some playing time.”

Culver believes he can still do better. Oklahoma State double-teamed him almost every time he got the ball in the post. He did have an assist on a pretty pass to Jermaine Haley, but wants to become better distributing the ball when opponents concentrate their defense on him.

“I’m still learning,” admitted Culver. “I kind of figure I’d get some double teams at times today when I got the ball, and they did that. I missed a couple open passes I should have made, but other times I did pretty well.”

For the young Mountaineers, there are plenty of lessons to learn.

 

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