The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

May 11, 2014

Huggins defends program after recent transfers

MORGANTOWN — Bob Huggins wanted to set the record straight and assure the world that “we’ll be fine” in his West Virginia University program.

Players were leaving him almost as fast as they came into his West Virginia basketball program, but he was maintaining it wasn’t as fast as it was being made out, and besides, he noted, this transfer bug was reaching “epidemic” proportions across college basketball.

The number that had been bandied around that really was getting under Huggins’ skin was that 12 of 16 recruits since the Final Four team were gone. So, to set the record straight, there have been 23 recruits since the Final Four and 13 of them have left.

Two since last season — two players with big roles in the program, guards Eron Harris and Terry Henderson.

And not yet counted in that group was forward Remi Dibo, whom Huggins would admit during this hurriedly called press conference Saturday morning had informed assistant Erik Martin that he was leaving to play professionally in France.

As Huggins tried to emphasize with all the other transfers or players who never showed up, it was nothing to be worried about, not being able to fault a player for going home to Europe to play professionally.

Huggins’ point in all of this is that he isn’t the man to blame.

“I don’t mind taking blame. Blame me for things I can control. Those things I can’t control, and they are not as alarming as portrayed by some people,” Huggins said.

He noted that three of the players among the 23 never suited up.

“Two were medical problems; one guy had a language problem and never passed the test. He never showed up on campus,” Huggins said.

But these are players who came and did not finish their careers in addition to Harris, Henderson and, perhaps, Dibo … Aaron Brown, Tommie McCune, Dan Jennings, Dalton Pepper, Keaton Miles, Aaric Murray, Pat Forsythe, Noah Cottrill, Darrius Curry and Volodymyr Gerun in recent years.

As for transfers, they had become as much a part of the college game as the 3-point shot.

“It’s not just here. It happens everywhere,” Huggins said. “It’s kind of the times.

“Forty percent of men’s basketball players don’t make it to their junior year,” Huggins continued, quoting available statistics. “They transfer. Thirty-eight percent of them don’t transfer to a like or higher conference. They transfer down.”

Because of the instability in the program, there have been people preaching doom.

“We’re going to be fine,” Huggins predicted for the coming year, noting that even though the Mountaineers lose Harris and Henderson, they still have the leading candidate for the Big 12 Player of the Year in guard Juwan Staten returning along with Gary Browne and three highly regarded newcomers “who get lost” in junior college transfer Tarik Phillip and freshmen Javon Carter and Daxter Miles.

Huggins also noted that the Mountaineers get eligible two talented forwards in Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon, who bring what they lacked last year, rebounding and length.

“We have five guys to add to what we had a year ago, minus those guys,” Huggins said.

People have intimated that Huggins can no longer recruit like he did at the height of his career and that his tough coaching methods may not fit with today’s athletes.

Huggins says neither theory is correct.

“We’ve been in postseason six of the seven years I’ve been here. Five consecutive (NCAA bids)— tied for the most in school history. A Final Four, the second in school history,” Huggins said. “If I’m recruiting that bad then I’m doing a heck of a job coaching.”

It was noted that Huggins’ Final Four carried a lot of holdovers from John Beilein’s recruiting. Huggins didn’t buy that, claiming three of the starters on that team as his recruits.

“I love Da’Sean Butler, Joe Mazzulla, Wellington Smith, Cam Thoroughman,” Huggins said, speaking of holdover players he inherited. “They are very much part of our family, regardless of who recruited them. The last time I looked it said ‘West Virginia’ on the jersey, not ‘Bob Huggins.’”

Then he made perhaps the strongest statement he would make.

“Nobody loves WVU more than I do. When the time comes I don’t think I can do my job and do what’s best for WVU I will quit. I will not hang on,” he said. “This is about West Virginia University, not John Beilein, not Bob Huggins.”

And this is what Huggins has to say to those who say his coaching style is too tough on today’s players.

“Every former player who comes back says, ‘Why are you being so soft? Why have you changed so much?’ I try to coach guys the best way to get to them,” he said.

There have been people who have suggested that players were leaving because he was recruiting some players with a lot of baggage. He rejects that theory.

“It’s not the kids we’re bringing in,” Huggins said. “Kids are leaving in the Ivy League. They are leaving the Dukes, the high-profile schools. It’s not the kind of kids were bringing in.”

And when asked whether a coach has to re-recruit his players every year today to make sure they stay, he felt that was the wrong word, preferring to talk about the relationship between coaches and players.

 “You’ve never heard any of these guys say they didn’t have a relationship with the coaching staff,” he said.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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