The Times West Virginian

June 7, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Noreen: Loyalty is often missing

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — In the crazy, transient world that college basketball has become, we decided to reach out for some sanity.

In truth, it wasn’t hard to find, even here, where players have been moving in and moving out as if this were Marriott University instead of West Virginia University.

Didn’t matter if they played or didn’t play, scored or didn’t score, started or rode the bench … they came in, played a while, then were gone, either asked to leave or transfered on their own, the two latest and most shocking having been guards Eron Harris and Terry Henderson this past month.

That was when we noted an item that told us that one of coach Bob Huggins’ players was graduating in June, having spent four years – including a redshirt injury season – in the program, not as a star, but as a role player.

His name was Kevin Noreen, a citizen as solid as the picks he sets for Huggins.

It had been a thrill, an accomplishment for Noreen, who came to WVU from the frozen tundra that is Minnesota, a record-breaking scorer there with more than 3,500 points but at a level that didn’t transfer into points at Division I.

Why, one wondered, did things work for him and not for so many others? A top student in industrial relations, who is returning for one final year here as he seeks a master’s degree and to play on a winning team, Noreen had some interesting thoughts in answering that question.

Noreen believes young kids coming out of high school are listening to people they shouldn’t be listening to rather than listening to their heart.

“There’s a mentality these days that they go to a school because it’s where their AAU coach wants them to go, or it’s where the school has the best shoe contract deal, not necessarily going to the schools for the right reasons,” he said.

“At other times you get there and it isn’t what you expect or you aren’t doing as well as you thought you would, so you want to jump ship and go somewhere where the grass is greener.”

It’s almost as though they are trying on schools the way you would try on a pair of sneakers.

That can explain, in part, why so many transfers are occurring across the basketball landscape, but what of here in Morgantown, where many people are theorizing that kids are not ready to take the kind of tough coaching that Huggins has traditionally put on them.

Noreen understands that theory and believes he knows where it comes from.

“They may have had more of a coddling approach. I might blame that on AAU again, because that’s the way the best players are treated,” he said. “They don’t get yelled at, and in AAU you don’t practice that much because with all-star teams you travel so far. You only come together to play games.

“That true coaching experience to prepare you for college is lacking,” he continued. “When you are constantly told you are the best, it makes it a shock to come to college with players who are just as good or better than you, and you are not the guy anymore.

“I don’t know if it has anything to do Coach Huggins’ style. He hasn’t changed. The only thing that has changed is the dynamics of AAU and the upbringing of kids.”

Noreen’s foundation was different than most of the other kids, and that allowed him to appreciate the approach Huggins was taking and accept his role in the system.

“My dad was tough, and I had another coach besides my dad that was tough on me. They taught me all the time the team is the most important thing,” he said.

Not that there weren’t moments when he didn’t wonder about his situation and think if it might to be better for him to head elsewhere to find playing time, which certainly would have been understandable.

“It would cross your mind; of course it does,” he said. “But being realistic, you want to be loyal to people who have been loyal to you, and Huggs has been loyal to me. I have nothing but respect for him. If he stuck with me for four years here, even when I was injured, I could stick with him.”

The problem is athletes are more interested these days in royalties than loyalties.

Noreen, on the other hand, has personally got everything he wanted out of his experience at WVU, except the on-court victories that were there with the Final Four team. He’s hoping to go out with seniors Juwan Staten and Gary Browne having helped restore the pride to the program.

That, plus a chance to start toward his master’s degree, is why he is coming back for his final year rather than getting started on his career.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “Staying another year lets me get a year of graduate school paid for. In today’s day and age, you really have to have that master’s degree to solidify yourself.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.