WVU Basketball Notebook: Adjusting On The Fly Is The New Normal

West Virginia’ guard Miles McBride defends against Kansas' David McCormack (Richard Sugg photo)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Adjusting to change has been the theme to almost all aspects of life in the pandemic world of 2020.

For athletic teams at many levels, schedules have been shuffled and reshuffled more than a blackjack deck in Vegas.

With the Tuesday, Dec. 29 (2 p.m. on ESPN+) substitution of Northeastern for coronavirus-paused Buffalo, the Mountaineer men’s basketball team has played just four of the 10 opponents that were part of its original slate when it was announced in late October.

“This one isn’t all that hard because we’ve had enough time,” Huggins said of switching Northeastern for Buffalo in a matchup that was finalized six days before it was to be played. “The hard ones were early on in South Dakota (in WVU’s three games at the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic). They said we were going to play somebody, then we going play somebody else, then no, no, you’re going to play somebody else. We just didn’t have a whole lot of time.

“Josh (Eilert, WVU’s director of basketball operations who has taken the lead on much of the scheduling) has done a great job,” added Huggins. “He’s not only done a great job finding people, but finding good people that are going to help us. They play different than what we’re used to playing, which is good, because there are a multitude of ways to play, particularly in our league.”

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The Mountaineers took a few days off after their loss at Kansas on Dec. 22. Many went home for the holidays before reconvening in Morgantown on Dec. 26.

With the coronavirus raging in so many areas, the concern was some of the players would contract COVID during their travels, but according to Huggins, all the Mountaineers have tested negative for the virus upon their return and will be available for Tuesday’s game with Northeastern.

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Senior guard Taz Sherman piqued our interest the other day when he discussed the cardboard cutouts that now populate the WVU Coliseum.

Since fans are currently not allowed in to the Coliseum for West Virginia’s men’s or women’s basketball games, those cutouts are the only “crowd” watching the Mountaineers.

Sherman especially liked a cutout of a dog that had a good seat right behind WVU’s bench. With a little investigative work, I found out it isn’t just any dog – it is Huggins’ grand-pup.

“It’s Jenna’s dog that’s back there, and he kind of likes me,” said West Virginia’s coach of his daughter Jenna’s dog, Cannoli, who is a frequent visitor to Bob and June’s home and has his own cutout behind the Mountaineer bench. “He’s one of the few I can count on.”

Cannoli’s is one of nearly 1,000 cutouts gracing the Coliseum at the moment. Mountaineer Sports Network analyst Jay Jacobs has four of them.

“Four of Jay is way too much. One is of Jay is too much, but four is crazy,” deadpanned Huggins. “They have him sitting beside all the good-looking girls, too.

“I was hoping I’d get Don Knotts, but he’s way down on the other end.”

MSN color commentator Jay Jacobs (left) is flanked by another breed of Mountaineer fan.

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Having been a college coach for over 40 years, Bob Huggins has touched many lives in terms of players, fans and other coaches.

He’s also helped plant the seeds that have spawned many other coaches.

Mick Cronin (UCLA), Frank Martin (South Carolina), Brad Underwood (Illinois) and Andy Kennedy (UAB) are some of the high profile head coaches who worked under Huggs either at Cincinnati or Kansas State.

A couple of his former West Virginia staff members have also moved on and found success on their own – Jerrod Calhoun and James Long.

Long is in his second season as the head men’s basketball coach at West Virginia Tech, which is an NAIA program in Beckley that is a member of the Rivers State Conference.

A former walk-on at WVU, Long also spent three seasons as the Mountaineers’ video coordinator before getting a head coaching opportunity at WVU Tech.

The Charleston, West Virginia, native led the Golden Bears to a 23-8 record in his first season at the helm, and has the club standing at 4-4 this season. That start to the 2020-21 campaign includes a pair of games against Division I opponents – an 80-66 loss to Youngtown State and a 73-67 win over Morgan State.

“I talked to James while he was driving the van on the way back from Morgan State,” said Huggins, the pride in his pupil oozing out. “He was driving, and Payton (Sturm, former WVU student manager) was the co-pilot. I got to talk to both of them. James was really excited.

“James is doing a terrific job, but we all knew he would.”

The earlier win by Youngstown State over WVU-T was the convergence of two branches of the Huggins’ coaching tree.

Calhoun is in his fourth season as the head coach of the Penguins, after previously posting a 124-38 mark in five seasons at Fairmont State. He was a member of Huggins’ staff at West Virginia from 2007-12.

Calhoun is building the Penguins’ program. Following an 8-24 mark in year one, it improved to 12-20 in year two and 18-15 in year three. After a belated start to the 2020-21 campaign, which included cancelling a game against WVU because of COVID issues, Youngstown State is now 4-3, including its win over West Virginia Tech. YSU did get swept in a two-game set at Cleveland State this past weekend, losing 87-69 on Saturday and 81-74 on Sunday.

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Bob Huggins is again on the list of candidates for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which recently announced the list of those eligible for the class of 2021.

This is the fourth season that West Virginia’s head coach has been a nominee.

Others on this year’s ballot include Chauncey Billups, Chris Bosh, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Chris Webber, Jay Wright, Swin Cash, Becky Hammon, Doug Collins, Michael Cooper, Howard Garfinkel, Lou Henson, Paul Pierce, Val Ackerman, Yolanda Griffith and Lauren Jackson.

Finalists for the class of 2021 will be announced during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, which is scheduled for early March. The class of 2021 will be unveiled in the timeframe of the NCAA Final Four scheduled for early April.

 

 

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