If West Virginia University basketball fans are wondering what this year’s team is going to look like, then look no further than Head Coach Bob Huggins for the answer.
On second thought, Huggins admitted he’s still trying to figure out what this year’s team is capable of. With so many new faces with so little game experience, he’s left guessing at the possibilities for the 2014-15 Mountaineers.
“How we’re going to react when there are people in the stands and the lights come on,” Huggins replied when asked what he’s unsure about with this year’s WVU team. “How we react to changing defenses. We’ve worked the last couple days against zones, which you wonder if you can make enough shots. But we’re able to do things that we couldn’t do before. We’re able to throw it into the interior of the defense and score, which we couldn’t do before.”
“So we’re better in a lot of areas, I think,” Huggins concluded.
Huggins hopes to be better in the athleticism and defensive departments, as opposed to one year ago.
Gone are offensive shot-makers Eron Harris and Terry Henderson. But as they say: When one door closes, another one opens.
That’s where seven newcomers enter the equation. Jonathan Holton, Elijah Macon, Daxter Milers, Jevon Carter, Tarik Phillip, Jaysean Paige and BillyDee Williams will dawn the old gold and blue for the very first time in a matter of days as the upcoming season approaches.
Senior point guard and Big 12 Conference Preseason Player of the Year, Juwan Staten, is one of the few upperclassmen returning for the Mountaineers. Seven new players are considered a lot for any college basketball program. But according to Staten, the developmental process has progressed exponentially.
In fact, Staten believes the newcomers are coming along quicker than even he had originally anticipated.
“They’re coming along very fast, in my opinion,” Staten explained. “It’s hard to learn all of the concepts that we have here. We have so many. I’m sure it’s different than a lot of schools. They’re picking them up fast. They’re eager to be out here. They’re giving 110 percent. That’s the hard part – giving it your all. As long as you play hard, everything else will fall into place, and I think that’s what’s happening.”
If there’s one thing Bob Huggins has been known for throughout his 36 years of coaching, it’s honesty.
Although three of the seven newcomers arrive in Morgantown fresh off junior college basketball seasons, Huggins is not quite sold on them being completely ready for everything that comes along with the Division-I level.
But then again, the early season jitters can get the best of just about anyone, including eventual NBA veterans.
“I can remember Corie Blount, he played 13 years in the NBA, pretty good player – he was awful,” Huggins said, using Blount as an example of junior college players not being quite prepared for the Division-I atmosphere. “We had a red and black game, or whatever we called it [at the University of Cincinnati]. He was awful. I said, ‘what’s wrong with you?’ And he said, ‘coach, I’m so nervous – there are so many people in the stands.’ There might have been about 5,000 fans. I was like, ‘wait a minute, wait until we get 13,176 in here. Then what are you going to do?’”
“So, they’ve never played in this kind of atmosphere,” he said.
The atmosphere inside the WVU Coliseum, when sold out, can be one of the best home court advantages in college basketball.
WVU basketball fan attendance has been questionable over the last two seasons, which has seen the Mountaineers miss out on the NCAA Tournament.
But now in Staten’s senior season, he’s not ready to exit Morgantown with zero appearances in the big dance.
In other words, it’s tournament or bust in the eyes of Juwan Staten.
“First thing, we can win more games. That’s our main focus,” Staten responded. “I’m not really concerned with my personal accolades. I want to get the team better. I want to do something that I haven’t done personally, which is play in the NCAA Tournament. So that’s my main focus. I want to do anything I can to help the team get there.”
“One thing that I tell myself is that I don’t want to go empty-handed,” WVU senior guard Gary Browne announced passionately. “I’m not going to let that happen. I don’t think Juwan will let that happen. So it’s going to be an exciting year. I hope that we get the support of our state, like we always do, so we can finish strong.”
Spending time with this year’s WVU men’s basketball team, one can understand the heightened sense of urgency, something that has been unmatched by the previous two seasons. Huggins has noted the camaraderie between his players, which he believes will carry the Mountaineers back to the postseason.
“I think the exciting thing for me with this group is that they’ve by and large have really bought in,” Huggins said. “They come in ready to practice. I can’t name you one bad practice. We haven’t had a lot of just average practices. By and large, they’re better than average. We get more done than what we’ve been able to get done the last couple of years. So that helps.”
Success has been consistent with West Virginia men’s basketball, both under John Beilein and now Bob Huggins.
That may be why no NCAA Tournaments in back-to-back years has the fan base in a current state of frustration. But Huggins feels as though he finally has the right mix of veterans, newcomers, and most importantly, hard workers, to lift the program back to its winning ways.
If you’re wondering when a Bob Huggins type of team will make its return to Morgantown, then look no further than this year. With an athletic and versatile frontcourt [Devin Williams, Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton], along with the best player in the Big 12 Conference [Juwan Staten], the Mountaineers will certainly look different – a type of different that they hope concludes with their name being called on Selection Sunday.