Tine For WVU Players To Seize Initiative
MORGANTOWN, W. Va.— This one is out of the coaches’ hands right now for West Virginia’s suddenly lost and losing basketball team.
The season now belongs to the players.
See, the coaches, they’re out of answers. They’ve tried everything they can. They’ve switched offenses. They’ve switched defenses. They’ve switched lineups. They’ve poked, prodded and pushed a young team in every direction they could, yet what once was a season in the sun is suddenly a year with dark clouds hanging over it.
And it isn’t for the coaches to save it any longer.
It is the players who must grab it by the throat and shake life back into it.
These guys didn’t win 19 games by accident, not playing as tough a schedule as they have played. These guys who have lost four of their last five, who lost this Saturday in overtime to TCU, of all teams, are better than they are now performing.
Once it was all right to blame it on the youth, but that excuse has become old.
They won 19 games while they were young. They beat Ohio State when it was ranked No. 2 in the country, a win to cherish when they were young.
Since then they have gone 8-7.
But that’s not the worst of it. What really hurts is that they’ve lost their swagger, lost it because they are unsure now of everything they do.
Since that Ohio State game they have played seven road games.
They have lost six of them.
That’s a team lost at sea, a ship without a captain.
Winning on the road is tough, yes, so one may deduce that to win on the road a team must be tough. This team isn’t.
Bob Huggins likes to talk about his good Cincinnati teams and tells the story often of how his great guard Nick Van Exel once upset the Cincinnati fandom when he was quoted as saying that the Bearcats liked playing on the road better than at home.
They took that as a slap at the home crowds and their support, but Van Exel explained that wasn’t what he meant at all.
They liked going on the road because they enjoyed putting it to hostile crowds, to take the insults that were hurled at them and use them as daggers with each basket, each steal, each rebound, each block to throw it back at the crowd.
He pointed out that they enjoyed seeing the home folks leave early as the scoreboard showed Cincinnati with an insurmountable lead.
That’s attitude. That’s swagger. That’s how winning teams operate. And it is internally generated, created by the team’s leadership, magnified through the team’s chemistry.
Huggins noted that he saw this coming and said so after losing at Oklahoma, that the team was different, the attitudes had changed from earlier in the season.
He was hearing things like players questioning their playing time.
Now he says bluntly that he’s tired of it, that it’s up to them to earn their playing time.
He told a tale of his first year at West Virginia.
“First time I went into coach (Joedy) Gardner’s office, know what he said to me?” Huggins said Saturday night after the TCU game. “‘You have to transfer, boy. You’re never going to play here.’”
His reply was defiant.
“Coach, I’ll play,” he said.
“No, you don’t understand. You’re never going to play,” Gardner pressed on.
“Coach, I’m going to play,” Huggins insisted.
“You need to transfer,” Gardner continued
“I already transferred. I’m not going to transfer again. I WILL PLAY!”
And play he did.
He didn’t complain about it. He did something about it. He took whatever skills he had and sharpened them and honed them and made himself the best player he could.
But a winning player.
It was up to him, just as it is up to this group of players who now have five regular season games left in which to put the train back on the track.
It begins Monday night in Austin with a game against an equally desperate Texas team on short notice. Yes, free throws have to start falling, jump shots need to be made, defensive stops must become the norm.
But, most of all, leaders from within must take over and save what still can be a year to look upon with pride.