Starting Point For Leadership Centering on WVU’s McCabe

West Virginia
West Virginia guard Jordan McCabe applies defensive pressure

Starting Point For Leadership Centering on WVU’s McCabe

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — They say in basketball it starts with the point guard and at West Virginia, that means normally it starts long before the game begins.

The point guard is Jordan McCabe and while he is small in stature, he has grown into a big man in the revival of the WVU basketball program, a revival that continues at 7 p.m. on Monday night when Coastal Carolina comes in to face Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers in the second round of the CBI.

West Virginia
West Virginia guard Jermaine Haley poses after scoring on a drive

Now Jermaine Haley and Derek Culver have been more spectacular than McCabe in turning the Mountaineers’ season around statistically, Culver on the boards and Haley with some high-scoring performances matched with some deft ball-handling.

But it seems that the leadership role has fallen upon McCabe, who believes “I was born to lead.”

It was that attitude that allowed him to serve in such a capacity almost as soon as he got into school, even though he was playing poorly and was just a freshman.

It was just his way.

“I think he tried to lead from the start,” Huggins said of the former Mr. Wisconsin. “He was a guy trying to get guys in the gym, to put work in. He’s been like that since he’s been here. He just didn’t have as receptive an audience as he has now.”

He didn’t stop trying, but he also learned that it’s hard to lead while sitting on the bench unless you carry the title of coach, so he worked to get himself more minutes and to do that he needed to improve defensively.

“He’s figured out you have to stay between your man and the basket. That’s the biggest thing,” Huggins said. “Guys coming in, for whatever reason, want to guard from the side and that’s a no-no in college basketball. He’s done a real good job of staying in front of people. It’s hard to score over people.”

With him putting time into it, others followed, just as they followed when Huggins made the most crucial correction to his team by getting them to pass the ball to each other rather than the opponents.

They had been killing themselves all year with their ball handling and Huggins decided to go back to the ABCs of the art.

“This probably sounds crazy but we put them on the toss-back,” he noted.

The toss-back is an elastic netting that offers a target to pass into and when you do it right in sends the ball back to you. It’s probably something all of them used in their youth.

“We were doing stops and starts, pivots, reverse pivots and full pivots, back pivots and everything else and then we put them over on the toss-back with a guy in front of them,” Huggins explained. “So they had to pass the ball past the guy who was guarding them into the toss-back and have it come back to them.

“I think it really helped us. They kind of like it too — it’s kind of fun for them. It’s different and at this time of year you kind of look for something different.”

* * * * * *

The coaching matchup for Coastal Carolina game is an interesting one in that Huggins owns 860 victories and Cliff Ellis has compiled 841 at Cumberland University in Tennessee, South Alabama, Clemson, Auburn and Coastal.

“I know Cliff real well,” Huggins said. “We both were on the Nike circuit and spent time together back when coaches got away. He’s a great guy to be around. In fact, I remember one time in a restaurant somewhere with Phil Knight and Nike executives. They asked Cliff if he could play and sing and he went over the piano and he did and Mr. Knight got an unbelievable kick out of it.

“He probably got a raise out of it from Mr. Knight.”

The Chanticleers finished sixth in the Sun Belt Conference with a 9-9 regular season record, their best finish in the league since making the move from the Big South Conference three years ago.

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