By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Bob Huggins has begun trying to get his 2012-13 West Virginia University Mountaineers at the top of their game, but he showed this week while attending the annual Big 12 Media Day festivities in Kansas City that he has already peaked.
The coach was asked by the media if his previous experience in the Big 12 — he coached Kansas State for a year as he escaped basketball purgatory — would help him as his team moves into the new conference.
As always, he gave it a bit of thought, then extolled this wisdom on his inquisitor:
“I don’t know. I know where to go eat,” he said, proving he was in midseason form even before his team takes the floor at the Coliseum at 7:30 tonight in a 40-minute officiated scrimmage that has been dubbed the Gold-Blue Debut and takes the place of Midnight Madness.
The evening will also include the introduction of Huggins and his staff, the players who have been picked to finish sixth in the Big 12, a talk from Huggins and an autograph session following the scrimmage.
If Huggins’ talk is as funny as he was at the Big 12 Media Day, it should be worth the price of admission — which is free.
While on the subject of his experience in the Big 12, Huggins noted that much has changed since he left there to return to Morgantown to take over the Mountaineer head coaching reins from John Beilein and that, besides, his stay in the Big 12 was short.
“There were places I didn’t get to go. I didn’t go to Lubbock. I almost wanted to stay so I could go to Lubbock the next year, you know,” he said, drawing a laugh, Lubbock being the most remote outpost in the conference.
Ask the WVU football team how they enjoyed their trip there.
Then someone asked Huggins about the impact of having to take a long trip for every road game, a legitimate question, to be sure.
He began is his answer this way:
“They asked me in there who our rival in the conference would be, and I told them probably Iowa State, because they are our closest competitor, only 853 air miles.”
Again a laugh from the crowd, although that really is hardly anything to laugh at.
In truth, road games in the Big 12 figure to be adventures.
Certainly, Huggins and his team had a taste of what it will be like last year.
“We came out to Wichita last year and had mechanical problems and didn’t get in until about 4:30 in the morning Wichita time, 5:30 our time,” he said. “We played the next day, had a heck of a game, an overtime game, then had some problems getting back and didn’t get back until 5 in the morning.
“That was a Thursday night, and we turned around and had a game against Miami at home at 1:30 Saturday afternoon.”
Multiply that by how many road games, and you can see the potential for problems.
“We were fortunate enough to win both those games. (The long trips) might help; maybe I screwed ’em up and over-coached them,” he said. “I kind of thought maybe we’ll just stay the night and come back the next day, but they don’t sleep anyway.
“After a game, it takes them a while to go to sleep. I think they sleep better on the plane. They sleep better sitting down than lying down. You put them in a chair they go right to sleep. Tell them to go to bed and they never go.”
The road in the Big 12 presents other problems, too, for much of the league is in similar settings to Morgantown, and everyone knows the home court advantage WVU has.
“Teams in the Big 12 probably have the best home-court advantage of any of the major leagues in the country,” Huggins said. “I don’t know who has a bigger home-court advantage than Kansas has. We went in there and lost by about 106 my year at Kansas State. My 7-foot-2 center fouled out I think in 7 minutes.”
So how will he handle the challenge in the Big 12. Everyone will get an idea tonight when he introduces the much-anticipated debut of transfers center Aaric Murray from LaSalle, point guard Juwan Staten from Dayton and guard Matt Humphrey from Boston College by way of Oregon.
Murray is a shot-blocker and rebounder who also can score and has NBA potential, Staten is a slick point guard who will work well with returning guards Jabarie Hinds, Gary Browne, Aaron Brown and Humphrey, who may be the best shooter on the team.
Murray and a cleanly shaved Deniz Kilicli will be powerful up front with forwards Keaton Miles, Dominique Rutledge and Kevin Noreen. Help also will come from a European addition Volodymyr Gerun, along with newcomers Terry Henderson and Eron Harris.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.