After just one summer practice, Bob Huggins appeared optimistic about the future of WVU hoops in the 2019-20 season.
Not only is energy and enthusiasm abundant — there’s also plenty of talent to go around.
During summer practices, Huggins will mix in newcomers with experienced players, but there’s already one new pairing that he expects to use frequently.
The head coach confirmed Wednesday that sophomore Derek Culver — the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder — will play alongside freshman and five-star recruit Oscar Tshiebwe. He expects that tandem, along with senior Logan Routt, to grab “a lot of rebounds” for the Mountaineers.
“I think we can go back to dominating the glass like we did at one time,” said Huggins.
Huggins said the duo of Culver and Tshiebwe could be similar to another dominant tandem of big men: Kenyon Martin and Jermaine Tate of Cincinnati. Both players were 6’9″, and they combined to average more than 14 rebounds per game under Huggins during the 1999-2000 season.
With Culver and Tshiebwe playing together down low, Huggins says the Mountaineers could opt for a three-guard set.
“We’ll be able to play three guards a lot more than we’ve been able to play three guards in a long time,” said Huggins.
Until the end of last season, West Virginia’s lineup seemed like a carousel, as Huggins experimented with different pairings to find the fight fit. The Mountaineers finished last in the Big 12 in number of categories, including field goal percentage, scoring margin and scoring defense.
But this year, WVU possesses more experience, depth and size — three ingredients that could lead to success with a different lineup.
“We’re gonna be more — I don’t want to say guard-oriented, because we’re gonna throw it to Derek and Logan and Oscar — but we can play with three perimeter guys, and we can get away with playing three perimeter guys because we’ve got a couple small guards, but then we’ve also got some big guards,” said Huggins.
The head coach says he wants players to “bond” this summer, but these practices leading up to an August trip to Spain are important developmentally for newcomers who aren’t yet up to speed. For the likes of Tshiebwe, a former state champion in Pennsylvania, going up against Culver and Routt in practices will help him develop.
“It’s been good for him to play against Derek every day and really play against Logan every day. You don’t get that in high school,” said Huggins. “He has been really good. He can rebound that ball, and really runs.”