By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It is not what any coach wants to do, save for those who possess the crème de la crème of the nation’s freshman class, players who expect to play one season of collegiate basketball before heading into the NBA.
West Virginia University’s Bob Huggins, though, knows he has to play the hand that has been dealt him and, despite holding three aces in Eron Harris, Juwan Staten and Terry Henderson, he’s only going to be as good as his freshmen are.
Circumstances have forced Huggins to put freshmen Devin Williams, Nate Adrian and Brandon Watkins in key roles, even though they would be best served easing into the action rather than being important parts of the team.
Williams is the most celebrated of the three, a player Huggins cherished ever since he was starring in Cincinnati at Withrow High and then at Monteverdi Academy in Florida.
Had Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon qualified, Huggins would not have had to force Williams into being his full-time starting center, a position he will grow into but is not yet fully comfortable in filling.
“It may just be the speed of the game. Once he realizes how fast the double team is coming or the type of pressure they are putting on him, once he adjusts to that he’ll be fine,” said Staten.
“He knows the double team is coming. We tell him, once he catches it, go for it. If he sees the double team coming, pass it out. He’s a freshman. He’ll learn,” added Henderson.
Williams is averaging 9.2 points and 7.5 rebounds a game, so he has been a contributor, but he is only scratching the surface of his abilities at present.
“I think it’s really been a learning process for him,” Huggins said. “I just don’t know where we go. Kevin Noreen’s not a back-to-the-basket guy; Nate is not a back-to-the-basket guy. The only other thing we’ve got is Brandon.”
Brandon is Brandon Watkins, who came out of Huggins’ doghouse to save the Marshall game as he recorded a double-double and was named the Capital Classic’s Most Valuable Player.
Watkins’ play down low completely changed the look of West Virginia both on the offensive and defensive sides.
He had played only two minutes in the previous two games because he had not practiced well, failing to show the effort Huggins wanted out of him.
“He’s getting better,” Huggins says now. “Brandon is a work in progress, but he brings some things the other guys don’t bring. If he continues doing what he’s doing now and continues to progress, I would envision him holding more playing time, but it’s like everything else. You can’t do it one day and not the next day.”
“He came in against Marshall and did a great job,” Henderson said.
That performance seemed to light Watkins’ fire.
“He’s been practicing way better. I want the best for him, especially if he can help our team out. I think that game will boost his confidence,” Henderson said.
In truth, Williams and Watkins sharing time down low, being different types of players, could cause problems for opponents.
To get WVU really cooking, though, Huggins would like to see more contribution from Adrian, the freshman out of Morgantown High who had started at the 3 spot until Henderson’s shin healed.
To date, Adrian has shown himself to have a limited game, relying mostly on his shooting ability.
Huggins wants more out of him but realizes that’s a project that will have to be put on hold during the season.
Adrian is taking the transition from high school to college in stride.
“It seems like every time Nate gets going he sprains his ankle. He’s sprained it three or four times. He’s like every freshman. He’s had some really good days and some not-so-good days. That’s what you get with freshmen,” Huggins said.
“The challenge is to get Nate to do things other than shoot, to be able to score different ways. He’s not a guy right now to put anyone on his back and score. He might grow into a 6-10 guy at the 3, which is pretty good. We have to get him where he can put a little guy on his back and take him into the post, but that’s something for the fall. You can’t do it right now.”
“It’s obviously a lot different than high school ball in Morgantown, but I’ve gone up against it a lot in AAU ball, so I’m used to it,” Adrian said. “When you come into college ball you don’t know anything, really. They teach us well. I listen as best as I can. Just keep listening until you get a hang of it.”
And as for expanding the scope of his game, Adrian is all for it.
“That’s something I need to work on. Right now I’m shooting too much. I need to work on my post game,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time, a lot of repetition and teaching.”
He’s willing to put in the time and work.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.