The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

February 12, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Adversity has bonded WVU into a family

MORGANTOWN — It started in the aftermath of a disaster for Terry Henderson.

He’d gone off down a dizzying rabbit hole in Kansas and found his entire world had gone off kilter. He was a basketball player who could not play basketball.

Oh-for-3 shooting in the first half, then like some character out of the Wizard of Oz he had simply disappeared in the second, not so much as getting a shot off.

West Virginia, which needs all cylinders firing if it is to beat a Top Ten team like the Jayhawks, naturally lost a game that might have given it the credentials it needed to sneak in the back door of the NCAA Tournament.

So here was the team, flying home … and what do you supposed Terry Henderson did on that flight?

No, he did not jump.

“He went virtually from person to person and apologized,” coach Bob Huggins recalled after Henderson had bounced back for a 16-point game in the Mountaineers stunning 102-77 embarrassment of No. 11 Iowa State at the Coliseum on Monday. “He said, ‘This one’s on me. I didn’t play well. I let you down.’ He went to the coaches. He went to the players. They’re good guys. He could have said, ‘I was sick.’ He didn’t. He said I have to play through it.”

And that spoke volumes to Huggins, who is a coach trying to craft the kind of team he wants so badly, doing it after a year when he had anything but that.

Seeing what Henderson did after that night in defeat, seeing how his other players have played so hard, practiced so hard, but more than that, formed themselves into a family unit that is united in its goals and growing with each passing game and practice.

“That’s what we’ve always done and why I loved my guys so much … because they don’t make excuses, they don’t cry, they show up every day and go to work,” Huggins said.

This is actually beginning to carry over to the fans, at least a riotous student section and those who are left from around the state after that dismal losing season of year ago and some rather ridiculous business decisions that put the games out of reach of many of the common fans.

“They are good guys,” Huggins said again of his players, offering up the highest kind of compliment he can offer. “They didn’t point fingers at each other. They didn’t get down. They came in every day and came to work. I think that’s what you’re supposed to do.

“That’s what this state is … a whole bunch of people who get up every morning and go to work. Whether they’re not feeling well. Whether their leg hurts, their arm hurts, their head hurts, they get up and go to work.

“That’s what these guys have done.”

And, Huggins would point out, it hasn’t been easy. It is a young team that wasn’t ready for big time college basketball when the season started, going through a tougher way of life on the college court and in the college classroom than they had ever experienced before.

“We got guys playing with a lot of stuff. Eron Harris hurt his ankle in the Kansas game and was limping around yesterday. We’ve had guys sick, banged up … but they showed up and played,” said the coach who, himself, had come back from a heart attack a decade back that might have forced a lot of others into retirement.

Yeah, he could appreciate what was going one.

“Brandon Watkins got his teeth knocked out, came back and finished practice. That’s more what I’m used to,” Huggins said of his backup center who can see improving not only game by game, but half by half.

Then there was Nate Adrian, who broke his nose almost every time an elbow came near it, yet kept going.

“We had some guys a year ago, God, you’d of thought they weren’t going to die. This is really a good bunch of guys,” Huggins said.

And what might be good about it, even though Staten has emerged as the “star”, it is a team that plays as if it is one, enjoying each other’s successes and having each other’s back.

“The neat thing is Eron [Harris] had some big games and they were happy for him … really, really happy for him. Not putting on a show but really happy for Eron. Terry had big games and they were really happy for Terry. And when Wanny had big games … you know they’re all down there now and really, really happy for Remi,” Huggins said, referring to Remi Dibo, who had just recorded the first 20-point game of his WVU career.

“And they are down there talking about Nate. They understand what Nate did [three crucial second-half steals]. That’s a sign they are starting to get it. They are starting to understand what we have got to do to continue to be successful. This is a hard league, a hard, hard league.”

But they are not just keeping the elation within the confines of their locker room. After making Iowa State the second ranked team to fall before them in the last three games after having gone more than two years without beating any, the team joined in with the student section in singing “Country Roads”.

“It was a great feeling because none of us have been able to do that,” junior Kevin Noreen explained. “Except for Oklahoma last year, we haven’t done that in a long time. It was a culmination of the hard work in practice that we’ve gone through.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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