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December 24, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU’s Williams having roller coaster freshman season

MORGANTOWN — There had been some special moments during the first third of West Virginia’s 2013-14 season for Devin Williams, glimpses into the future as Bob Huggins had envisioned it when he recruited Williams out of Cincinnati.

And then there were those not-so-special moments, such as his performance against both Gonzaga and Marshall, when you left the arena wondering what Huggins had ever seen in Williams.

Such is life as a freshman playing big-time basketball.

Your world is a roller coaster and there’s little more exciting for you than reaching the top of the hill and anticipating what lies ahead, and little as frustrating as the long, slow climb to reach another peak.

On Sunday afternoon, Devin Williams reached another peak, playing his finest game as a Mountaineer as he compiled his fourth double-double of the season, scoring a career-high 20 points and pulling in 12 rebounds, while adding a shot block and a couple of steals.

It meant a lot to him because it came at the end of one of those long, uphill journeys, trying to reach his peak performance.

“You turn on the TV and you see freshmen every day. I just want to show what I can do and what I’m capable of. I have to keep working. I just have to keep working and build off of this and realize why I got this 20 or whatever,” he said.

“It was because I was consistent in the gym, just working in practice, talking, trying to be a communicator. I think it paid off so I’m not going to go away from it.”

It is what Huggins wants from him, what he demands from all of his players.

“Devin is a good kid who really wants to be good,” Huggins said. “You think different guys have turned the corner. They play pretty good for three or four games and all of a sudden they don’t play good. Generally it’s because they didn’t put in any extra time.”

Williams isn’t that way. He goes after it in the gym.

“Devin always works hard,” Eron Harris said. “He’s still learning because he’s young. He has to listen to the older guys, but by the end of the year he is going to be first or second all-conference.

“Hopefully all of our players will be that way. If we win, all of our players will get recognition.”

For a freshman, Williams is physically matured, but like so many freshmen the emotional maturity has yet to kick in. That, of course, leads to emotional ups and downs through a season that follow the on-court ups and downs … perhaps even extending the lengths of the bad times.

Certainly, he was asked, he had been down on himself at times this year.

“If you would have asked me this question three games ago I would have probably been down. There have been times when I was sulking. But I’ve been here before. That’s why I say, live and learn. Know what? It’s always next play, next play.”

Huggins has tried to be part coach, part father figure, part team psychologist.

“Coach Huggs?” Williams said. “He’s Huggy Bear. You hear the bad stories, like he’s very intense. He’s a good coach. He doesn’t care if you miss shots. He doesn’t care if you miss layups. As long as you are giving him effort, he’s fine with that.

“I had that talk with him a couple of mornings ago. You may miss a shot … the Gonzaga game, I didn’t play well. I was down on myself and he told me, ‘I don’t care if you miss shots, as long as you continue to play hard.’ That’s all he worries about.”

Huggins understands that players with the right approach will get the most out of their ability, often even overachieve if they work hard and study the game, something that is hard to with some players who believe they can succeed on talent alone.

Williams understands the season to date has been disappointing, but whether through freshman innocence or through knowing something, he strongly believes good days lie ahead.

“We’re going to figure it out,” Williams said. “We’re going get some good wins this year, some quality wins. I think we’re going to upset a couple of teams a couple of times. I haven’t played in the Big 12, but the good thing about it is you have to play every team twice, maybe three times.”

Or is it the bad thing about it?

NOTES: WVU’s loss to Purdue was just its third home loss in its last 54 December games … WVU has gone 467 games since it last played without making a three-point shot … The crowd of 10,019 for the Purdue game was the season’s largest at the Coliseum, even though the students had started Christmas break … Purdue failed to make free throws down the stretch, nearly costing them the victory, yet it was expected as they ranked 281st in the nation in free throwing shooting entering the game … Kevin Noreen came off the bench against Purdue and was charged with two fouls in 38 seconds.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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