By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The other day, in the midst of explaining a rather disappointing fifth loss in a season just 12 games old, West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins made a passing reference to how different this team was from what he thought it would be when he was putting it together.
The comment kind of slid on by, but really held the essence of what has happened with this year’s team.
See, basketball teams do not just come together out of preseason practice.
There is as much thought and effort that goes into constructing them, no matter what the sport, as goes into building your dream house.
It starts long before you begin practice. There’s a blueprint.
It begins in the recruiting, not even in that year’s recruiting but in prior years. A coach has an idea of the players he wants, the players he can get, the type of system they can play and so forth.
There was a time when Huggins envisioned this season’s team taking the floor with Aaric Murray at center, Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton at forwards, Juwan Staten at point guard and Eron Harris at the shooting guard.
Coming off the bench would have been Terry Henderson and Gary Browne at guards, Kevin Noreen and, perhaps, Remi Dibo, although he might not have been recruited.
Freshmen like Devin Williams, Nathan Adrian and Brandon Watkins would have had a chance to be what they are — freshmen. Think how much they could benefit, to say nothing of the team, by learning while playing limited time at first and easing their way into important roles.
If, indeed, Macon and Holton are as good as Huggins believes they are, this might have been a talented and deep enough team to be nationally ranked and to carry itself far into the NCAA Tournament.
Rebounding and defense would have been taken care of by Murray, as well as scoring ... but there is no sense mourning that departure, for it was something that had to happen for a number of reasons.
Think, though, had just Macon and Holton become eligible and Huggins used Devin Williams as he has, this still would have been a far, far more competitive team.
That things fell so completely apart for Huggins is disappointing, but it does go to a point that coaches have to consider.
Put bluntly, counting on junior college transfers is risky business and probably should be avoided.
Macon and Holton were building blocks out of junior colleges, neither of whom qualified.
See, there’s a reason players wind up in junior colleges, and very seldom is it because they want to be there in junior college.
Almost all the time there are problems, be they behavioral, academic or with maturity, but they exist and there’s no real reason to believe those problems are going to be corrected in junior college.
To start with, it’s probably certain that like the player, given the choice, the coach isn’t thrilled being there rather than at a Division I school, and that there is some reason why he is there.
We’re not talking about Division II or Division III transfers, although the theory may hold, but they usually are players who didn’t hold Division I offers. The junior college players we’re talking about normally have had offers but couldn’t qualify to get into a school in the first place.
This is not to say that it never happens, that junior college players don’t sometimes see the light or benefit from their time in junior college. It’s just that it seems you are often bucking the odds when you go that route.
I’d rather go with a major college transfer — although that comes with no guarantee of success, as Murray proved — like Juwan Staten or football’s Charles Sims, or with a good kid/student out of high school who may not be a top recruit but has a chance to develop.
True, coaches are not the most patient group and, with the salaries they are earning now, it is hard to sell rebuilding seasons to the public and their bosses. To them, grabbing players they believe can play immediately to fill needs is necessary to their holding onto their jobs.
But there can be a price to pay for their impatience and perhaps that is happening here.
Can Huggins overcome the absence of his two junior college transfers in conference play?
It is beginning to look as though he might be able to do that. Certainly Williams gave signs in his last game with a career-high 20 points and 12 rebounds that he might become a force in conference play, while Watkins is coming on strong.
True, Watkins followed his MVP performance against Marshall with an 0-for-5 shooting night against Purdue, but he had eight rebounds in 16 minutes and altered a number of shots inside, so much so that Huggins has made a key decision.
“We’ve got to play Brandon more. We have to get him up to speed. We’re spending too much time with guys who are not producing,” Huggins said in the aftermath of the Purdue loss.
He surely will stand by that statement heading into league play, and if Watkins does deliver defensively and on the boards for him, he may have found the answer.
A team that has Harris, Henderson and Staten at the guards, Williams and Watkins at the forwards may just be the best lineup Huggins can put on the floor with Dibo, Browne, Adrian and Noreen coming off the bench.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.