By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
You knew right from the start, when Leslie Barton had the full house in the Coliseum on its feet for as rousing a version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as they have heard in some time, that this renewal of the rivalry with Virginia Tech was going to be a memorable day.
No one, not Bob Huggins himself nor anyone wearing the Hokies’ colors, could have imagined what would transpire, a game that would go down right to the final buzzer or the heroics provided by Kevin Noreen and Aaric Murray, who had to become outside shooters when the guards’ long-range shooting remained cockeyed.
That, of course, has been a lingering problem with this year’s edition of the Mountaineers, one exaggerated greatly on Saturday when Jabarie Hinds could hit but one of nine attempts at the basket and Gary Browne was even more off the mark with one of 10 shots made.
The anticipation of the day was that if this were to occur Huggins finally had someone who might offer some outside threat, not meaning either Noreen or Murray, but instead the newest Mountaineer, Volodymyr Gerun.
His six-game NCAA suspension, given to him for having participated professionally in his native Ukraine, a rather common occurrence with imports from that part of the world (See Deniz Kilicli sits out 20-game suspension before he can start his WVU career), was finally up and he was dressed and available for duty.
According to Huggins, Gerun is probably the best 3-point shooter on the team — that, of course, was a pre-Noreen/Murray analysis, and early on would be used for his offensive skills because there are parts of his game that have yet to be integrated into the WVU system.
“It’s been hard,” Huggins admitted, speaking of trying to bring him along while the season was in progress. “It’s a hard situation.”
The problem is that at practice you tend not to spend a great deal of time on someone who can’t play in the upcoming game.
“You can’t possibly pay as much attention to him. You only have him around for home games. He wasn’t allowed to travel. He has not been around the team, watching the film, getting the scouting report,” Huggins noted.
“He doesn’t know what those other guys know, obviously. From a knowledge standpoint, it’s hard.”
It doesn’t help, either, that there is a language barrier. Not that his English isn’t coming along, but it is not yet to the point where he is comfortable with it, thus precluding interviews with the American media.
Trying to figure out what Huggins means at most times is far more obvious than trying to dissect one of Mickey Furfari’s questions.
So it is that much of the communication and guidance is coming from Kilicli, who went through the same thing and is from Turkey, which is not far from the Ukraine.
“He’s been getting better,” Kilicli said of the newcomer. “He’s been working. It’s hard to practice when you are not playing. He is always on offense when we are running through stuff, but his offense is not going to be a problem. He has a real good offensive game.”
The one universal truth as far as international basketball goes is that every kid likes to play offense, to dribble and shoot, to run and to dunk.
It’s on the defensive side where the real players are separated from those who think they are players.
“He hasn’t been doing lots of the stuff we’ve been doing on defense. He’s smart. He will be able to pick it up,” Kilicli said.
Virginia Tech was not a good matchup, as athletic as the Hokies were and as much as they like to run the floor, turning the game into more of a foot race than a patterned game that fits Gerun best.
But make no doubt, once he accustoms himself to the surroundings and the game as re-invented by Bob Huggins, he will be a big addition, especially in that area of 3-point shooting.
Huggins calls him a “stop and pop” kind of player and compares his abilities to someone who proved himself to a pretty valuable player for Huggins.
“He’s more like K.J.,” Huggins said, referring to last year’s leading scorer Kevin Jones, now with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“When you think about, what K.J. did was stretch people. You had to come out and guard him,” Huggins said.
That opened up a lot of lanes for others to drive and made defending WVU far more difficult.
Of course, once Huggins is putting Gerun in there with Murray and Noreen, WVU won’t need the guards to be taking those 3-point shots that have usually wound up being fast breaks going in the opposite direction.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.