Injuries Loom Over Start Of WVU Basketball Practice
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It is difficult to imagine but at the end of this week Bob Huggins will be opening his 37th season as a head coach, the last 11 of which have been spent coaching his alma mater, West Virginia.
It is — again — a new era, for gone is Jevon Carter, who etched his name among the best ever at WVU over the last four years, turning the team over to center Sagaba Konate and Esa Ahmad to try and take it one step forward for an even deeper run into the NCAA Tournament.
Huggins faces an interesting challenge, a team that up front he believes “can play with anyone in the country” but with a backcourt that must not only replace Carter but his four-year partner Daxter Miles Jr.
There are many new faces but one old problem … injuries.
“I’ve never in how ever many years it’s been had this many guys banged up,” he admitted in his first press conference.
First there are carryover problems. Guard Brandon Knapper missed last season with knee surgery, then had a blood clot problem that some feared might end his career, but Huggins says he is fine.
Forward Lamont West is recovering from hand surgery and Huggins believes he will be fine for the season, the injury being responsible for an off-season shooting the ball last year.
Then there was sophomore forward Andrew Gordon.
“Andrew seemingly every 10 minutes has to bend over and rub his knee,” Huggins noted.
Just to add another worry line, Huggins revealed that Konate “tweaked” his knee “a little bit.” A search of the medical dictionary showed no definition of a “tweaked knee”, so that’s presumed to be not serious.
And Beetle Bolden, who must take on full-time status at guard, has his annual inury. Or injuries.
“Beetle has had all kinds of stuff. The latest one was stretching some ligaments in his hand and it was all swollen up like a baseball sitting on it,” Huggins said. “That’s it … until today. We’ll probably get another one.”
Actually, that wasn’t really it.
There’s Chase Harler, who is going to have play a much bigger role this year as a shooter.
“It’s been hard without Beetle. Chase has been terrific, but then Chase just got hurt,” Huggins said. “He’s been nursing a bad back. They just did a bunch of tests or him. He’ll be out for a while.”
So you need some good news?
Esa Ahmad looks phenomenal, according to Huggins.
An oft-troubled senior, Ahmad missed the first half of last season due to a suspension and never really got unwound.
He seems ready to take on the season.
“I think he realizes this is it,” Huggins said. “He’s done a better job in the weight room. He’s been in the gym more than he’s ever been in the gym and consequently he’s playing better.”
Certainly things will be different. The guards are undersized, which will change the press some, but Huggins believes he will make up for any losses with Carter and Miles in depth.
“Our strength is our numbers,” he said. “We have 15 guys. Logan Routt gave up his scholarship so we could have more guys (you are allowed only 13 scholarships) and Taevon Horton (from Fairmont) has walked on. Both of those guys are competitive.”
There are young guards joining Harler and Bolden in Jordan McCabe, Jermaine Haley, and Trey Doomes, who, oh, yeah, also had strep throat and a sprained ankle.
“I think it’s good for them that Tarik Phillip was here, JC (Carter) was here, Dax was here, Jaysean (Paige) was here. They got a dose early on of the physicality of it, which they weren’t used to, and the length that they weren’t used to,” Huggins said.
“Playing against those guys for a month to a month and half was very good for them. I think they understand there’s a lot of guys for a few spots. Even though we plan on playing a bunch of people, everyone wants to jog out on that carpet to start the game.”
McCabe, Mr. Basketball in Wisconsin, has impressed Huggins.
“Jordan McCabe is unbelievable,” he said. “He has taken and digested film as well as anybody that I have ever had. It’s been like, ‘What do I have to do to be a good point guard?’ Well, it’s like knowing who’s coming open first, who’s coming open second, if those two aren’t open, who is coming open third.
“You can’t just come down and heave the ball to somebody. That’s not being a good point guard.”
Huggins also sees Derek Culver as a big man who can play a major role.
“He’s 6-10 and 260 and he’s probably the fastest man on our team,” Huggins said, but he admits he needs work.
“He is learning. He did some nice things the other day, his best practice, but I don’t know you want to throw it to a freshman to win games,” he said.