WVU Men’s Basketball Team Readies For Public Debut

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins surveys the action

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The 2021-22 Mountaineer men’s basketball team will roll out the carpet at the WVU Coliseum at 7 p.m. on Friday for the Gold-Blue Debut.

The public is welcome, and admission is free. An officiated scrimmage will highlight the evening. There will also be an introductory speech by coach Bob Huggins, and the activities will conclude with an autograph session on the Coliseum floor. Everyone entering the Coliseum or seeking autographs must wear a mask.

The appearance is the first opportunity the public will have to see this year’s squad.

The guy who has seen this team a great deal the past couple of months is its head coach, and Huggins, always a tough critic, likes some of what he’s seen but also is quick to point out concerns.

“We just don’t have veteran guys that have played a lot of minutes coming back,” explained Huggins, whose club was 19-10 last season. “Taz (Sherman) didn’t play that many minutes until the end (of the 2020-21 season). Sean (McNeil) didn’t either, and those are pretty much our most experienced guys. That’s a whole lot different than having Deuce (McBride) back and Derek (Culver) back, or before having J.C. (Jevon Carter) and Dax (Miles) back. There are a lot of unknowns.”

One of the knowns for West Virginia would seem to be its ability to shoot from the perimeter.

Sherman (47 of 131 from 3-point range last year for 35.9%) and McNeil (69 of 178, 38.8%) were two of the top 3-point shooters in the Big 12 last year, and Jalen Bridges (27 of 66, 40.9%) also was a threat from beyond the arc. Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman who missed all but 10 games last year after suffering a torn Achilles tendon, is expected to step outside and knock down shots as well.

“I was really surprised this summer,” said Huggins of Cottrell’s relatively quick return from the serious injury. “I thought this summer he would be ginger with it, but he was out there running up and down, playing, running and jumping. He has not shown any sign of favoring it.

“He’s shot the ball well from the perimeter,” Huggins added of Cottrell. “He shot a couple yesterday that didn’t move the net from three. He’s got to rebound it better and do some of those things, but he’s really shot the ball well.

“With Isaiah’s ability to go out there and make shots, it’s really going to spread defenses.”

West Virginia’s offensive output was second in the Big 12 last season, averaging 77.3 points per game, though its defense was an un-Huggins-like eighth (72.0). The coach still has worries about his team’s ability to defend.

“We suck; we don’t guard very well,” said WVU’s straight-shooting veteran coach. “We’re putting a lot of time in to do a better job of guarding the ball and doing a better job of guarding without fouling. But we don’t make rotations the way we need to. We have a tendency to stand and watch rather than moving. It has to be so reactive, and we’re not doing that.”

Right now Huggins sees a team with offensive strengths but also defensive questions.

“I think it’s fair to say they can make up for bad defense in how they shoot the ball,” acknowledged the coach.

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The departure of McBride to the NBA has left West Virginia without an experienced point guard.

Kedrian Johnson, a former third-team junior college All-American who is in his second season at WVU, and Malik Curry, a graduate transfer from Old Dominion, have been competing to replace McBride in the Mountaineers’ starting lineup, though freshman Kobe Johnson also is in the mix.

West Virginia guard Kedrian Johnson (0, right) pressures Texs tech’s Mac McClung

“Kedrian has played well. He’s shot the ball better than what he shot it a year ago, and his ball security is a lot better,” noted Huggins, who holds a career head coaching record of 900-381. “Kobe’s ball security might be the best of all of them. He’s a freshman, but when you play at Canton McKinley (High School, Kobe’s alma mater in Ohio), you play pretty good competition.

“Malik just had his molars pulled,” said Huggins of Curry, who has missed practice time recently because of the dental procedure. “He and Kedrian were going at it pretty good earlier, but then he had problems with the molars. I don’t know how much longer (he’ll be out). It used to make me mad when they didn’t practice, but we have 15 guys, so I don’t know what to do with them all anyway.”

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Besides Curry, a second Mountaineer currently sidelined is freshman James Okonkwo, who is dealing with a foot injury.

“In the beginning, they said five to six weeks for it to heal,” Huggins explained on the predicted rehab time for the 6-foot-8 forward. “The way he was playing before he got hurt, he was going to play (this season). He’s quicker off the floor than our other guys.

“The plan all along had been to redshirt him. That’s what his dad wants, and that was his mindset going in. He shocked me, because he was a lot better than I saw on film.”

With Okonkwo’s injury, it seems likely WVU will revert to the original plan and redshirt the Maidenhead, England, native.

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Following Friday’s appearance, the next time the Mountaineers will have a chance to perform in public will be on Friday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. when they host Akron in a charity exhibition game.

 

 

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