By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will be introduced to the public at 7:30 tonight at the Coliseum.
Perhaps they should be introduced to their coaches, too, for they have so much turnover and are so young that Bob Huggins and Mike Carey don’t know them much better than you do.
Both did get a head start on the season with 10 days of practice and a tour of Europe in which they played some games, but in truth that was only an introduction to the basics. The real lessons for Huggins’ six freshmen and Carey’s four freshmen who join a team with only one returning starter begin now.
Huggins returns starters Kevin Jones at forward and Truck Bryant at guard along with a veteran in Deniz Kilicli at center. Carey has returning starter Aysa Busie at center and her backup in senior Natalie Bruton.
But for both teams, each in the NCAA Tournament last year, this year will be a teaching year, one that will require patience from the coaches.
Huggins, 58, with 691 victories under his belt, is at a point in his career where many coaches lose the patience to teach young players, but he says that is not a problem.
“As usual, I am not like everybody else,” he said. “I have more patience with some stuff as I get older in certain areas, particularly on the floor areas. I had no patience when I first started. I thought everybody should know what I know. I have since learned that they don’t. Really, we have had a lot of patience with them to this point.”
Carey is taking the same approach.
“I’m going to have to have a lot of patience. You know I’m known for being very patient,” he said, sarcastically. “We have to do a lot of coaching.”
While the coaching staff will be doing the teaching, the leadership is going to have to come from the veterans.
“Kevin Jones is going to be our leader. There is no doubt about that,” said Huggins of the player who last year averaged 13.1 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.
Jones wants to be the type of leader that Da’Sean Butler was two years ago.
“I looked back to his senior year. He did so much stuff for us, not only on the court but off the court with the leadership he provided on the way to games, in practice, everything,” Jones said. “I want to be that Da’Sean Butler kind of leader and know every position and get everyone where they need to be.”
The past year they had Joe Mazzulla as a different kind of leader, a scrappy, fighting type of leader. Now he’s gone, and neither Bryant nor Jones has that type of personality.
“I know you have to have something like that, but you don’t need that to come from one guy,” Jones said. “We need to play tougher as a team. We have young guys, and they haven’t experienced how grueling the Big East is. We have to come in with a cockiness. Coach Huggins’ old teams in Cincinnati had a swagger. We have to have a swagger, be the aggressor.”
What it is, Bryant said, is creating an identity.
“I think we have to develop our own identity. Joe brought a lot of toughness to the team, but we have a lot of tough defenders here now. K.J.’s not going to let anybody lay the ball up every play. We have to have our identity defensively.”
Carey is facing the same thing, having lost Liz Repella and three other starters, all seniors and leaders.
Carey’s personality is probably the strongest thing his club has, so he may have to be the driving force.
He has already begun driving his young players.
“I tell these sophomores, now is your time,” he said. “They were freshmen last year, and I guarantee you last year they sat at the end of the bench and called me names and wanted more playing time.”
“Well, guess what, be careful what you ask for. Now it’s your turn. It’s time you step up and do what we ask for.”
Huggins will be moving Truck Bryant from the point to the shooting guard spot, claiming he is the team’s best outside shooter. That means a pair of freshmen will work at the point, highly touted guard Jabarie Hines and Gary Browne.
Carey already has himself a problem as his projected point guard, Linda Stepney, already has a stress fracture in her foot, much the same as Sarah Miles last year was hurt in the preseason.
“That hurts us at point,” Carey said, predicting she would be out another couple of weeks. “I was looking to use Brooke Hampton some at the 2 and swing her over as the backup at the point. Now I have to swing her over to the point.”
It figures to be this way for much of this season, mixing and matching with talented but inexperienced players on both Huggins’ men’s and Carey’s women’s teams to get the most out of them until they gel.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.