Low Key Start For WVU Men’s Hoops Practice
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The biggest news to come out of what was Bob Huggins’ first news conference to welcome in another new season — his 43rd as a coach — was that there was that there was no news at all.
Two hours earlier football coach Neal Brown held a news conference and announced that starting guard Josh Sills was out for the season with shoulder surgery. In Houston, news conferences come with the news of the latest transfer in a season that has gone haywire.
And at Kansas, well, its news is parceled out in releases talking of how they plan to fight the NCAA, which is throwing the book at the basketball program as residual damage out of the FBI’s investigation of college basketball.
But at West Virginia, the mood inside the basketball practce facility matched the clear, sunny day outside.
It offers a stark contrast to a year ago, when the basketball season turned into a daily dilemma, a soap opera without a hero, resulting in the worst of those 43 seasons Huggins had coached.
But this is a new year. The cancers have been cut away and what is left is a young — there are just three seniors — and talented team that likes each other, gets along with the coaches and may be potentially as talented as Huggins’ Final Four team at WVU.
You ask him what makes it unique and he offers something you never really thought you’d hear from him.
“We actually make shots,” he said. “We don’t have to rely on two or three shots a possession. Or we don’t have to depend on creating turnovers as much.”
In the recent past, Bob Huggins lived off offensive rebounding and a pressing defense.
Now, it’s a different world
“I think we have more guys who are capable shotmakers. Are they going to do it all the time? I don’t know. Hopefully they don’t all miss on the same day, which sometimes happens.
“We got more guys. Chase Harler has shot the ball well all summer. Sean McNeil has been laid up. We look at him as an elite shooter. Taz Sherman can make shots and our returning guys can shoot. We have more guys who can make open shots.
“Then, add that to the fire power we are going to have inside we will be able to create more open shots on the perimeter.”
Think about this, for a moment. No one doubts the best players are the two big men, the returning Derek Culver and five-star newcomer Oscar Tshiebwe.
They are a show of their own, but this team has players like Jordan McCabe and Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Jermaine Haley and the additions certainly have to outweigh the departures of Esa Ahmad, Wesley Harris and Lamont West.
The atmosphere was so poisoned that the likes of Beetle Bolden wound up transferring and Sagaba Konate fled to the NBA.
This group, though, actually has Huggins acting light-hearted.
“I told our guards the other day that the good thing about them is every time I go out to coach them I realize what a hell of a player I was. I didn’t do near the dumb things they do,” he said.
“I knew if a guy was open you are supposed to pass it to them, not hold it until he’s covered. That’s a good feeling to have, you know. I’m telling you right now, I was pretty damn good.”
Good enough to start on this team, he was asked?
“Start?” Huggins answered. “I’d be the captain.”
He has made himself part of what is a growing chemistry with this group.
You ask him about his team’s trip to Spain and he offers up the following.
“They were great in Spain. Everything they did there they did as a group, which was different. They went out and played football on a beach. Logan Routt stills envisions himself a quarterback,” he said.
Routt, of course, is a 7-foot basketball center who played quarterback at Cameron High.
“Only in a town of 300 people can a 7-footer be a quarterback and 5-6 guy be the center,” Huggins joked. ‘Deuce [Miles McBride], of course, was a quarterback at Moeller in Cincinnati. This team, they actually like each other, hang out together.”
They have fun.
Take the running gag going on between Culver and Tshiebwe, the two big guys.
“Here was the deal,” Huggins began. “Derek said he was faster than Oscar. Oscar said no way. They were supposed to race, but they haven’t raced yet.”
So it’s still there, this challenge.
“Derek says to me, ‘Don’t you think I can run?’” Huggins said. “I answered, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never seen you. I see trotting up and down the floor, but I never saw you run’.”
The needle was an old one, for last year Huggins had tried to get Culver to go hard all the time.
Now, though, he turns it to the reason he wants him to run.
He needs to run. If we can wear on other people’s bigs and beat them up and down the floor, that’s great for us.”
Big guys who can run, to say nothing about rebounding and dominating the rim, shooters who can hit from the outside, ball handlers like McCabe, and now all they need is defense … but maybe not as much with the pressure as they used to play.
“I don’t think we should use a steady diet of anything on defense,” Huggins said. ‘When we were really good with the Final Four team we played a lot of point drop, match up, man and we played 1-3-1.
“You can’t let them come down and do the same thing every time. You have to try to keep them off balance. I think that’s what we’re going to do but I don’t now how we are going to do it yet.”