Who Would Have Thought It? WVU #2
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — You are never too old to learn.
And that’s what I learned Monday.
You’d think when you are on the other side of 50 (years in this sport writing business, let alone age) you might have learned something along the way.
Then you wake up one morning and find out you know nothing.
That’s the ranking The Associated Press bestowed upon West Virginia in its weekly men’s basketball poll this week … the highest the team has been ranked since December of 1959 when a fellow named Jerry West had people across America scurrying to see where Cabin Creek was, which first meant they had to find out where West Virginia was.
I’d love to say I told you so.
But I didn’t.
Instead, you told me.
Yeah, you Jerry Kaufman. And you, J. Keith Wagner. And you Richard Clay. And so many others of you who believed while standing in what I — and many of my breathren in this business — were painting the Mountaineers done and gone after the season opening loss to Texas A&M.
Oh, that 88-65 loss was so one-sided, so distressing in the light of a No. 11 preseason ranking and all the hopes and dreams that go with such a lofty position that we jumped off the deep end, as we who write for a living are so prone to do.
Some samples of what I wrote:
It’s highly possible no No. 11 team ever played as badly as WVU did in this season opener before a sold out facility filled with military personnel, watching a 13-point lead with 13 minutes to go in the first half evaporate into a 23-point defeat.
— West Virginia’s basketball debut was a complete flop.
Give credit to A&M, without Robert Williams, expected to be a lottery pick and SEC preseason co-player of the year, executed a solid game plan.
Or maybe WVU might just be that bad.
WVU has not lost since that night, winning 14 straight, and you, the fans, let me know that you were keeping the faith in the aftermath of that game.
Here’s a sampling of what you had to say when I asked for comments:
— “How about RELAX? It was the very first game of the season.” — Jerry Kaufman
— “Of course he can fix it. He’s Huggs.” — @Iss_Addict
— “They will be ok. Just have to find some more offense beside Carter and get on their butts about effort and hustle, nobody better at that than Huggs.” — J. Keith Wagner
— “Not worried. Seen this before. Huggins will make great improvements over next few games. This team isn’t as naturally gifted as I thought but will be good. First 2 away B12 games will let us know who they are. Don’t really play anyone good until then.” — Richard Clay
— “The panic button has been removed from the drawer. But shall remain unpressed for a bit.” — Jacob Cooper
On and on it went.
The thing is, it isn’t miracles that coach Bob Huggins is performing as he’s put the pieces back together.
Huggins understood that he had his kind of team … sort of.
See, senior guard Daxter Miles Jr. had been injured and wasn’t in game shape. Forward Esa Ahmad, a key component who comes back after one more game, was sitting out a suspension.
Center Sagaba Konate was still a raw talent who needed to be brought along slowly.
And there were newcomers, key newcomers who had to be worked in.
Wesley Harris would start for Ahmad. Teddy Allen was still Teddy Allen and not yet Teddy Buckets, a man who could come off the bench and bring 20 points with him.
Then there were sophomores, players Huggins knew could play but still needed to be molded into their roles, Lamont West as a scorer and rebounder, James “Beetle” Bolden as an offensive force at guard off the bench, Maciej Bender as someone who could give Konate a blow.
All of that orbited around the centerpiece of the team, Jevon Carter, a guard unlike few others ever at West Virginia for he not only could score and pass but who was the best defensive player in the nation.
Huggins knew when the Mountaineers opened the season they weren’t ready, asking when they received that No. 11 ranking “Are they looking at the same team I’ve been looking at?”
In truth, only the fans believed along with the men who made up the team and now here they are, battling in the nation’s toughest conference to gain their first national championship.