The Times West Virginian


May 14, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Transferring is a two-way street for WVU

MORGANTOWN — There has been much loud and angry criticism over the past few weeks surrounding the West Virginia University basketball program and its inability to hold onto the players it recruits, enough so that coach Bob Huggins felt it necessary to address the situation with the media in a hastily called Saturday morning press conference.

The shadow of the unexpected transfers of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, a pair of high-profile guards who had been major contributors to the Mountaineers for two years and figured to be starters and leaders this season, lay heavily over the room as Huggins sat down and began to speak.

“First of all,” he said, “I transferred.”

And indeed he had.

Huggins, who was born in Morgantown, started his collegiate basketball career at Ohio University but after a season decided to come to West Virginia.

“I transferred because there was a guy in the same class ahead of me. I wanted to go where more playing time was available, and it turned out all right for me,” he said.

That, perhaps, is why Huggins has never stood in the way of any of his players transferring or put any restrictions on which schools they went to.

Too often, you see, we forget just who these college sports are for, looking at them through a fan’s eyes.

The idea of college is to benefit the student — or in this case, the student-athlete — who can have any of a thousand reasons for transferring, from, as Huggins said, “returning closer to home or getting farther away from it” to seeking more playing time, be with a girlfriend, find easier or more challenging school work or simply because he doesn’t like the coach or his system.

A scholarship is a one-year deal (the NCAA recently approved four-year scholarships but does not give many out) that must be renewed each year, but it does not allow a student-athlete to simply get up and transfer at the end of that year.

For example, just Tuesday former Kansas State quarterback Doug Sams announced he was transferring and was given a limited release by the Wildcats that allows Sams to contact Football Championship Subdivision schools with the exception of Stephen F. Austin, which plays Kansas State this season. It does not allow the former starting quarterback to transfer to another Football Bowl Subdivision school.

With all the recent whining of what has happened over the past few years at WVU, it must be recalled that this transfer game is neither anything new nor a one-way street.

That door opens both ways, and rest assured that over the years West Virginia has benefited as much from accepting transfers as it has been hurt by their departure.

Doesn’t matter what sport we’re talking about, either.

You can go back to the 1930s and football star Joe Stydahar, the first WVU player ever taken in the NFL draft, was a transfer from, of all places, Pitt. In the 1950s, the football team had Bob Orders, a Charleston native, transfer in from Army to become an All-American, and Joe Marconi, a fullback who became a first-round draft pick and Pro Bowl player, transferred from Maryland.

Quarterback Jeff Hostetler’s career began at Penn State, where he started three games before Todd Blackledge beat him out for the job. He transferred to WVU, sat out a year while Oliver Luck played — wouldn’t that have been an interesting quarterback battle — then came on to stun No. 9 Oklahoma in his first start, throwing for four touchdowns and 321 yards.

Things haven’t changed much since then, Clint Trickett having transferred from Florida State after earning his degree and winning his first start last year against No. 11 Oklahoma State, 30-21, while passing for 309 yards and two touchdowns before injuring his shoulder.

In fact, there have been a lot of quarterback transfers that have benefited WVU. In addition to Hostetler and Trickett, Jake “The Snake” Kelchner transferred from Notre Dame and in 1993 shared quarterback duties with Darren Studstill as WVU put together an undefeated regular season.

And basketball has had a number of noteworthy transfers itself, and what better place to start than with this season’s star player, Juwan Staten, who started his career at Dayton before coming to WVU to put himself in position to be the favorite for Big 12 Player of the Year honors this season.

As good a transfer as Staten was Mike Gansey, who was the missing link on Beilein’s great teams in 2005 and 2006, averaging 14.4 points and 5.4 rebounds while dishing out 164 assists. WVU’s teams went 25-11 and 22-11 in those two years and lost NCAA heartbreakers to Louisville in overtime in the Elite Eight and to Texas on a last-second, desperation 3 in the Sweet 16.

Gansey had come from St. Bonaventure and proved to Beilein that he was the complete athlete his team was missing, a free spirit to join the likes of Kevin Pittsnogle, Darris Nichols, Joe Herber, Alex Ruoff, J.D. Collins and Patrick Beilein.

And, a decade earlier, Greg Simpson came over from Ohio State to score 13.2 points a game for WVU’s first team to play in the Big East, scoring 28 in a two-point loss to No. 7 Villanova and 23 in a road upset of No. 20 Boston College.

Just the fact that players have transferred is not unsettling, for it happens a lot in this era, but what is unsettling is that the transfers are catching the coaching staff by surprise, which indicates a relationship problem.

Now Huggins is going to be Huggins, make no doubt about that, and 739 victories give you the idea that he knows what he’s doing, but it appears that he may need to bring some youth onto his coaching staff to develop relationships as confidantes with his players, people who can maybe smooth over bruised feelings when Huggins is through “correcting” them for mistakes they have made.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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