By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
When Bob Huggins unveils his 2013-14 West Virginia University basketball team on Nov. 4 with an exhibition game against Fairmont State University, you will get your first glimpse of a completely reshaped and refocused team.
It will not be in any regard the normal Bob Huggins team, as young and inexperienced as it is, and it will not be – or pretend to be – the town bully, either, for the emphasis has changed from the steak to the sizzle.
Big this team is not. Gone are Deniz Kilicli and Aaric Murray, leaving the inside quite bare with Kevin Noreen the biggest presence at 6-10 and four players listed at 6-9, each a freshman.
“Our inside guys have a lot to learn with Noreen being the only one who has any experience,” Huggins admitted the other day. “But they’ve been coachable; they listen; they’re trying. We’re going to get there. It’s hard when you don’t have background to do what we want to get done.”
There is, you see, a large difference between being a big man in high school and being a big man in the Big 12.
“Big guys are just used to standing under the basket in high school. That’s pretty much universal. When you are asking them to do other things that takes a little bit of time,” Huggins said , and that is just what he is doing with Brandon Watkins and Devin Williams, each 6-9 with Watkins at 235 pounds and Williams at 255.
Nathan Adrian is another big man at 6-9, 230 out of Morgantown High, but he is a different type of player than the others.
“Nate has made bigger strides than the rest of them,” Huggins said, a week of practice now under everyone’s belt. “He has really shot the ball well, and when the ball is going in like it has for him, you don’t look at the other things quite as hard. But he has a good understanding of how to play, which is a plus.
“He’s done a good job in terms of getting stronger. He’s got a long way to go, but you can look at him and see he’s going to be a big, strong guy who can step out and make shots.”
Making shots is going to be very important, it being an area where last year’s 13-19 team was terribly deficient. Gone were such sharp-shooters of recent years as Kevin Jones, Da’Sean Butler, Casey Mitchell, Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith.
Last year’s team shot 40.8 percent from the field and 31.6 from beyond the 3-point line, while the previous year the Mountaineers shot 43.0 percent from the field and 33.7 percent from 3.
Noreen could be far more a part of the offense than he has been previously because he has the ability to step outside and make a shot.
“He is a lot more confident offensively,” Huggins said. “He’s spent a lot of time shooting the ball. He’s changed his mechanics a little bit in that he didn’t get the ball up before. He’s getting it up a lot better now.
“I think it’s a lot confidence, too,” Huggins continued. “Before it was, ‘Should I shoot it or shouldn’t I shoot it?’ He’s not hesitating now. When he has good looks, he’s shooting it.”
And that is something Huggins wants out of Noreen.
“I want him to shoot more when he’s open. I’m not sure I’m thrilled about him trying to create shots, but he’s going to get shots because he does do a good job of screening and people haven’t guarded him.”
Noreen has been a five-year project, one who came in unsure of himself or his future but determined to mold himself into a player under a tough taskmaster in Huggins.
“Growing up under Huggins is really a daily process. Your first year you come in and you have to learn what his expectations are. You realize it’s not high school any more. You have to go hard every time down the floor,” he explained.
“Once you get that concept down, you realize he gives you a lot of freedom and lets you play within your game. At this point in my career, I’m going to do what I can do and not do what I can’t. For example, I’ll take the open shot when I have it because it’s something I have worked for, and he has confidence in it.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.