By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The arrow of the defeat Kansas State administered upon West Virginia University was still painfully buried into Bob Huggins’ chest, so much so that words coming from his mouth may have been a bit stronger than had the arrow been removed and he’d been given a day or so for the wound to heal.
All defeats sting, especially when your fire rages within as does Huggins’, but this was more so for his team had played incredibly badly for the second straight game at a time when it should be improving and had done so in an arena that he once had called home.
With that in mind, coming off a 78-56 loss what he would say sounded so out of place.
“I’m looking forward for these boys to roll back into Morgantown. I promise that. We will be an entirely different team when they roll into Morgantown,” he said.
With a team coming off a 22-point loss and regressing, one would hardly expect a coach to wish for a rematch and promise if not a different result at least a different type of team to make an appearance, yet that was just what Huggins was doing.
It was bulletin board fodder for Kansas State, yes, but it was also laying down the law to his team that there was a new sheriff in town and that he was going make this team play defense and rebound if it were the last thing he ever did.
The problem is, he cannot do it alone.
No coach can.
He needs help from his players, and, if you listen to Juwan Staten, who has become the heartbeat of the team, they seem to understand that.
Staten believes it’s time for things to change and that it really can’t come from a coaching staff that has done all it can do.
It must come from within.
“I think we’ll be all right,” Staten began, about to get rolling. “There just comes a point where everyone has to dig deep and show what they’re made of.”
This is the kind of talk that is thrown around too easily in sports. Every team that wins points to character as to why it wins rather than talent, and every teams that loses points to a lack of character rather than talent when, in truth, you find you have great character when your roster includes Peyton Manning or Jerry West or Michael Jordan.
But character counts, and Staten explained it as well as you will ever hear a college athlete explain it.
“You just can’t come out here and play to play. You need come out here to play to win, and you need to prepare to win. The coaches are drilling that into our heads every day in practice. The leaders are stepping up and talking to the young guys and the new guys.
“I think it will eventually start happening,” he continued. “When? I don’t know, but doing it every day in practice it has to translate to the game sometime.”
This is well and good, but in reality it is what has been going on. Oh, with so many young and new players, the coaches have had to spend a lot of time teaching fundamentals and the system that could have been spent refining things and team building, but they have reached a point of going beyond creating chemistry and to creating character.
Again, it was Staten who explained how this must occur. It wasn’t going to begin and end with Huggins pushing, cursing and shouting.
According to Staten, more than that is needed.
“It takes maybe some more effort from myself, from Eron (Harris), from Terry (Henderson). We try to be positive in practice, be role models in practice, but I think we may need to start getting on people a little bit more,” he said.
“Once the coaches yell at you so many times it turns into a thing where you start tuning them out. If someone else, maybe a couple of us, start drilling things into people’s heads so they start realizing how important it really is, it may be different.”
See, this team may be too comfortable with each other, too much a college fraternity rather than a basketball team.
“It’s tough,” Staten said. “We have a very close team. We get together on and off the court. We don’t do a lot of arguing. I think we need to start being more firm with each other and get everyone to realize these games are must-win games.”
Does this realization come too late to save a 10-8 season?
Probably so, but there are 13 Big 12 games left and a Big 12 Tournament, time at least to earn respect if not a place in the NCAA Tournament.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.