MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Let’s get something straight right from the top here.
Bob Huggins is not undergoing a rebuilding process at West Virginia.
Instead, this is a near-total reshaping of his roster, as demonstrated by the program’s latest move: the signing of former Texas forward Tre Mitchell out of the transfer portal.
— WVU Men’s Basketball (@WVUhoops) May 13, 2022
It is best termed reloading rather than rebuilding, even though there are a number of complications. The first is that since this is Mitchell’s second transfer, the university has to get an NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility.
WVU and Pauly Paulicap went through the same process a year ago with, but with the urgency Huggins demonstrated with this signing, you have to believe West Virginia feels good about its chances of getting the waiver, which could not be applied for until he signed a grant-in-aid with WVU.
The second complication is that Mitchell is now the 14th scholarship in the 2022-23 academic year and the limit is 13, which means that someone has to either leave, or defer their incoming scholarship acceptance. It’s possible that someone would not meet academic requirements or head into prep school for a year to make room, and we’ve seen that happen numerous times before with Huggins and WVU.
Mitchell would count against the scholarship limit whether he has to sit out to meet eligibility requirements or not. He would not lose any of his two years of eligibility remaining if he sat out, but make no doubt the Mountaineers are eager for his presence in the lineup this year.
Huggins, you see, isn’t a patient man and is very much less so at age 68 entering his 41st season as a head coach. He owns 916 victories, but only 71 of them have come in the last four years, two of which ended with sub-.500 records.
As he heads into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this year, standing second in victories among active NCAA coaches and fourth in all-time victories, he understands that he has made the turn and is heading down the homestretch of a historic coaching career, but would like to give his alma mater and home state one final run to remember.
Much of what has transpired over the past four years has been out of his control and has had many fans taking to social media suggesting that he stayed too long and that he has clung to an antiquated style of basketball while having to deal with a generation of players who no longer respond to his tough-love approach.
This, of course, is nonsensical. Anyone who has been paying attention understands that he was caught up in a landslide of challenges that were totally beyond his reach, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the explosion of the transfer portal, the advent of a penalty-free one-time transfer and the introduction of NIL.
It was this, along with the lure of the NBA, that dragged Huggins teams down along with so many others.
When one considers that over the last four years his grand plan unraveled because of these outside forces, one understands why rebuilding is not an option and that he, like so many of today’s coaches, has to live in the here and now.
No one could have envisioned the defection of Oscar Tshiebwe to perhaps nefarious behind the scenes actions or Deuce McBride to the NBA as they happened, crumbling the cornerstone of what should have been a productive past couple of seasons that looked primed for NCAA runs.
Last year Huggins was thrust into the situation of having to coach a team pieced together due to the defections instead of the team he envisioned and is comfortable coaching. He always was the bully on the block, but found himself physically unequipped to play his style of game, both at the offensive and defensive ends.
In truth, it is a blessing that most everyone was gone at the end of last season, which has allowed him to piece together a team that will live not off the fickle finger of the 3-point shot but instead on aggressive rebounding, smothering defense and an ability to score inside.
Mitchell could be the final piece to the reloading process, as he has Big 12 experience at Texas under Butch Beard, a coach very similar to Huggins in his basketball philosophies and coaching approach.
Do not be fooled by the fact that Mitchell averaged only 8.7 points per game last year.
Given the chance to score, he proved he could in two years at UMass before Texas. Mitchell’s UMass stat line showed him averaging 18 points a game for the 44 games he played for the Minutemen, averaging 7.2 rebounds with 52 blocks and 47 steals. He scored double figures in 41 of the games, five times reaching 30 points.
He shot 51.9% from the field — which says he can make a layup — as a sophomore while also showing he can shoot long range by hitting 37.5% from 3. What’s more, he was a 76.8% free throw shooter as he was first team All-Atlantic 10.
The only real unknown on Mitchell’s resume’ is that he left Texas on a leave of absence in February and did not return last year.
His addition figures to thrust WVU into the Top 25 in recruiting the transfer portal this year as he joins guards Erik Stephenson of South Carolina and Joe Toussaint of Iowa and forward Emmitt Matthews Jr., who returns after leaving WVU for a year at Washington.
With an influx of talent from high school and junior college and the return of a few players that appear better suited to his physical style, Huggins has molded a team far more in tune with what he has won with throughout his career.