Questions Of Focus, Listening Linger For WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In the midst of one of the worst stretches of his coaching career, WVU head coach Bob Huggins doesn’t believe his players are tuning him or his coaching staff out.
Following the Mountaineers’ 85-73 loss to Baylor, which dropped the squad below .500 (9-10) on the year, Huggins responded rather vociferously to a question on that topic.
“If they tune me out, I’m going to tune them out. So, no, I don’t think that,” he replied forcefully. “I don’t think that, and I think they know if they tune me out, I’m going to tune them out, and they’re not going to be around. That’s why it’s called ‘team.’ That’s the whole deal. It’s team, it’s not me. It’s team.”
That’s fine, as far as it goes. Huggins believes his players are still listening. If that’s the case, though, there’s still a disconnect somewhere between coaching and teaching going into ears and coming out as play on the court.
Take, for example, the opening two possessions of the Baylor game. Despite being highlighted in West Virginia’s scouting report, the Bears executed two simple backdoor cuts for layups to open the game. There wasn’t anything exotic about those sequences — a Baylor dribbler drove at another defender on the right wing, drawing his attention and allowing his man to cut behind him for an open pass and shot at the rim.
Of course, it can be misleading to cherry-pick such instances and use them as illustrative of a large point, but this is just one of many examples to point to. Huggins himself has mentioned, on more than one occasion, instances of his team failing to assimilate instructions and immediately doing something different. While he might not detect outright defiance in those actions, clearly there are breakdowns along the way.
“We’re young and we have a lot of young guys playing this year. It’s going to take time,” redshirt freshman guard Brandon Knapper said after the game, before admitting that progress is not where it should be. “We’re halfway through the season already and we should be locked in. We have to be more coachable and listen to the coaches. We have to come out every day in practice, every game, play our hardest.”
Again, the dichotomy. Without question, the influx of new and first-year players on the WVU roster have contributed to this season’s woes. Some are still struggling to learn offensive sets and the fundamentals of defense. But mentions of being more coachable, and of lack of effort, are troubling.
“I felt like we weren’t focused. We came out lackadaisical and didn’t take Baylor serious,” Esa Ahmad admitted. “I feel like if we want to win we are going to listen.”
While not directly contradicting Huggins’ belief, such comments do provide at least a different view of the dynamics of the current team. Firmly ensconced in the Big 12 cellar, players would seem to be more motivated to pay extra attention to what is being taught and emphasized in practice, not to mention the approach to games. Yet, that hasn’t been the case.
“I don’t understand,” Huggins said of some of those comments. “We practiced yesterday, we watched film twice yesterday. We came back last night to get some shots up. If he thinks that, then he probably believes that. We are 1-5 in the league. How could you not be ready to play? Now, we are 1-6. I don’t understand how you can’t be ready to play.”
Granted, observers don’t see practice or shootarounds. There’s no way to judge how intensely the scouting report is scrutinized, or how much attention is being paid. The only evidence on public display is game performance, and unfortunately the returns there have been bad. Huggins, in the abstract, says there is no room for going one’s own way, saying there’s only one response for behavior that disrupts the team.
“I’m different, I grew up in coal mining town. I was told growing up as a kid that your rights stop where you start infringing on other people’s. So, if they start infringing on other people’s rights, they have to go.”