WVU Assistant Discusses Difficult Season - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

WVU Assistant Discusses Difficult Season

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MORGANTOWN -

Nobody associated with the West Virginia University men's basketball program is accustomed to having a losing record. WVU is currently 9-11 overall and 2-5 in the Big 12. The mounting losses are taking a toll on Head Coach Bob Huggins and his staff.

"He is not handling it well," WVU Assistant Coach Erik Martin said of Huggins. "Nobody on the staff is and nobody on our team should be."

While nobody on the staff is accepting the losses, finding solutions to the current problems have been difficult.

"This has been extremely hard," Martin shrugged. "You search for answers every day. As a coach you can only do so much. You can give the guys the information they need and you can prepare to win. I think we do that. But, we just need to do better."

This team has shown glimpses of having something special. They have outplayed No. 1 Michigan and No. 2 Kansas for roughly 20-25 minutes of the game. WVU took then No. 18 Kansas State to the wire before ultimately losing. It appears they can play with anyone; however, they can also lose to anyone. West Virginia watched a double-digit lead evaporate and ultimately lost to Duquesne. WVU had a 13-point lead at Oklahoma State before losing that game by 14 points. The biggest problem for the Mountaineers is sustaining its play over the full 40 minutes of the game.

"You have years like this and you try and reach the kids," Martin said. "The way things happen in practice are usually the way they happen in the game. If you have watched us play, the games have been a microcosm of practice. We start out good and toward the end they tail off. I don't think it is physical, I think it is mental."

Martin's responsibilities include working with the bigs. He coaches guys like Aaric Murray, Kevin Noreen, Dom Rutledge and Deniz Kilicli.

"I have been around Deniz and coaching him really the last two years and I have done a poor job," Martin stated. "I have tried everything. I have tried being his friend, I have tried being his enemy and I haven't reached him and that is all on me. I will take responsibility for that."

Martin, Huggins and the rest of the staff have frequently challenged Kilicli to take his game to another level. That includes working on his game outside of the structure of practice.

"The best players we have had here since we have been here like a Joe Alexander, Da'Sean Butler and KJ (Kevin Jones), those guys put in numerous hours of work on their own," Martin said. "You can't get better with just what I teach you, what Huggs teaches you in practice, the guys who are in the NBA or making a ton of money overseas, those guys live in the gym. It is part my fault, I haven't been able to reach Deniz the way I wanted to, but I have told Deniz before, if you just want to get better in the three hours we have in practice, that is not how it works."

Martin indicated many players were in the practice facility working on their game throughout the summer, but that Deniz Kilicli was not one of those guys. Huggins and his staff have tried to make it clear to the players they need to work on their game on their own. They cannot rely on practicing as a team to do that.

"Facility or no facility, we didn't have this facility when Da'Sean was here," Martin explained. "He still got his shots up at the rec. The facility is nice, but I think it is more for the people of the state, kind of a tribute to them and the history of WVU basketball. You can find a gym anywhere on campus."

Martin is frequently on the recruiting trail. He was out of town earlier this week taking some time to scout some potential future Mountaineers. The summer is a big recruiting period for coaches. That means they are watching a ton of AAU basketball games.

"AAU to me is bad for basketball because kids will play four games a day," Martin stated. "They might lose all four games and tomorrow they have four more. Losing doesn't matter."

It is that kind of attitude players learn to live with that takes the sting out of losing as they move on to college basketball.

"I don't think it should be that you just play basketball because it desensitizes some of the pain of losing," Martin said.

Before AAU, many recruiting trips consisted of attending camps. That entailed watching players work on specific parts of their game in a drill setting and then seeing how they put those skills to work in games.

Winning is a mentality that begins with the players and spreads throughout the team. Over the last few seasons, WVU has had leaders emerge and help lead the team to victory. Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant did that last season. Before that it was Joe Mazzulla and Cam Thoroughman. The list goes on throughout the last five years, which included a trip to the NCAA Tournament in each of those five seasons.

"The best teams I have been on they take ownership amongst themselves," Martin said. "The Final Four team, are you kidding me? Da'Sean (Butler), Wellington (Smith), those guys said things we didn't need to say so they were self-motivated. This team does not have that leadership and I think that is why our record is what it is."

Looking back over those five years, the leaders were senior leaders. This team has three seniors. Those three seniors are Deniz Kilicli, Dom Rutledge and Matt Humphrey. Clearly Kilicli was expected to fill the role as senior leader.

"The reality is what KJ did last year, I think everybody in the state and on the staff thought Deniz, it is your time to step up," Martin stated. "You have been here for four years, you know everything. If something goes wrong, you have played more games and had more experience than anyone else so you are going to be the one to teach the kids. It hasn't been that way. It hasn't been all Deniz' fault. But, and I have told him this before, I put a lot of it on you man. If you are not going to lead, what are you doing? You are not a freshman. You should not be running around here like a freshman. Be a senior, or step back."

To date, Kilicli has not assumed that role as senior leader. There is still time to do that, but his play on the floor has been inconsistent.

The mounting losses continue to demoralize the coaching staff. They continue to try and find ways to turn those losses into wins and have not given up on this team.

Martin remains confident this staff will turn it around, even if it does not happen this season, "I'm a winner. Huggs is a winner. We're going to win. We are going to figure it out and if not, we are going to die trying."

Martin appeared to be rather emotional throughout the conversation. Watch the entire interview on this week's Bob Huggins Show. Check your local listings to see when and where it will air in your area. It will appear on wvillustrated.com beginning Saturday at 10 am.

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