The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

June 7, 2011

Expectations still high for WVU men

MORGANTOWN — It was mid-day Monday and Bob Huggins was heading for his Coliseum office with an inquisitor at his side, laughing at the thought that had just been put forward.

“Looks like you don’t have to recruit for three more years now,” I had said to him, now that his 2012 recruiting class had grown to nine with the addition of University of Dayton transfer Juwan Staten to a class that already had LaSalle transfer Aaric Murray and freshmen Aaron Brown (Darby, Pa., Penn Wood High), Gary Browne (Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, Arlington Country Day School/Jacksonville, Fla.), Pat Forsythe (Brunswick, Ohio, Brunswick High), Jabarie Hinds (Mount Vernon, N.Y., Mount Vernon High), Tommie McCune (Saginaw, Mich., Saginaw High), Keaton Miles (Dallas, Texas, Lincoln High) and Dominique Rutledge (Newark, N.J., Western Texas College) as signees.

“No, no,” said Huggins to the thought of taking life easy in recruiting from here on. “We have to replace Truck (Bryant) and KJ (Kevin Jones) next year. I’ll be aiming high, going for the best.”

It’s that way with Huggins. Basketball isn’t a way of life with him. It is life itself, a life that isn’t worth a damn if you aren’t shooting for the moon.

The truth is, that even though he has only Bryant and Kevin Jones back among his prime players from last year, Huggins is hardly writing this off as a rebuilding season.

Not at all.

“The only other time we had so many players come into the program like this, we went to the Final Four,” he said, referring to his Final Four team in Cincinnati after he brought in Nick Van Exel and Corey Blount and Eric Martin and Terry Nelson.

True, they were junior college players for the most part, but Huggins isn’t about to lower his standards just because he will be fielding a team that won’t be able to purchase beer at West Virginia’s football games this year.

His expectations are as they always are ... high.

“I don’t think I’ve ever changed,” he said, now comfortably seated behind the desk in his office. “The reason over the years I’ve been able to coach freshmen, I’ve been able to coach Juco guys and I’ve been able to coach transfers, is that I don’t change. You still have to be able to do what we need done to be able to win.”

That’s not to say that this isn’t a different kind of challenge than any he’s had since he returned home to replace John Beilein. The first year he had Joe Alexander to rely on, the next Da’Sean Butler. He had experienced players, good players willing to do what it took to win.

Now he has players who he has to get to know and who have to get to know him, it fortunately being a season when they will have a European trip over the summer that includes a couple of weeks of practice before leaving.

Players who he can get into school for the summer are eligible for the practice and summer tour, so they will be ahead of many of their opponents coming into the season.

“Obviously being able to practice before going to Europe will really help. You rely on your veteran guys to get the kids to where they understand some things. Guys like Mazzulla, Cam Thoroughman, Da’ ... they were great last year and the year before. They tried to get those guys ready for what’s coming,” Huggins said.

But they are gone. Now it really comes down to Jones and Bryant to assume the leadership role.

“I think KJ started to do that toward the end of last year,” Huggins said. “He was a little bit like Da’. He did it, but he did it hesitantly. It’s not his personality. Now, he’s much more vocal. He’s not shying away from it. Without question, he will be the guy.”

Thinking he had to lead last year with Butler gone seemed to bother Jones rather than help him, getting him off to a bad start on the season.

“You hear that [you need to lead] from so many people, you read it in the paper, you watch it on TV, all of a sudden you think it’s what you are supposed to do,” Huggins offered as an explanation. “I kept telling him to just be Kevin Jones, but everyone wanted him to be Da’Sean Butler. Well, he’s not Da’Sean Butler.”

With so much youth on this team, Huggins will have to return to being more of a teacher than he had to be the past few years, something that possibly could put a little more giddy-up in his own step, although he believes it is better for his team than for him.

“I think it helps your team. I think part of our problem last year was losing that whole freshman class. The freshmen bring enthusiasm,” he said. “We had Cam Thoroughman going through his fourth year of it, Mazzulla going through his fourth year, Jonnie going through his fourth year, Flowers his fourth year.

“It becomes a little mundane. Having those freshmen and that youthful exuberance and being able to coach a little bit yourself, you kind of forget about ‘Man, I’m tired of doing this stuff,’ and you start, ‘Let me help this guy.’ It becomes a little more exciting again, a little more fun.”

Certainly, this recruiting class addresses a major problem, that of ball handling. As it is, Bryant was the only point guard and he actually played better as the off guard to Mazzulla. This year he has a couple of solid freshmen candidates in Gary Browne and Jabarie Hinds, with Staten, who led the Atlantic-10 in assists this year, coming on the next year.

“The truth of the matter is we have somehow survived with basically one ball handler pretty much since I’ve been here, and it’s crazy. Duke recruits four or five guards and no one blinks an eye, and every time we try to recruit a ball handler they say, ‘Where am I going to play?’” Huggins said.

Now he seems to have that problem solved, which is important with a lot of young, hotshot recruits, for the last thing they normally learn to do is share the ball.

“I heard a guy say once, ‘You have a lot of catchers. You don’t have a lot of pitchers.’ In other words, we have guys that have been on the receiving end of the ball and haven’t shared the ball. That takes a while because they are used to being the guy who takes all the shots,” Huggins said.

“I think the group we have — Keaton Miles played with a guy going to Oklahoma State. They were both first team all-state guys. Jabarie played with a bunch of athletes at Mount Vernon. Some of our guys played where the ball didn’t stop with them, it had to keep rotation.

“We need to put more guys on the floor that can make plays. We haven’t been able to do that.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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