By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
I think you would have liked Matt Humphrey had he arrived at West Virginia with his shoulders working as they should have.
He’s a friendly kid, a kid who looks you in the eye when he speaks to you, a kid who reaches out to shake your hand when you have finished interviewing him.
The problem was that we didn’t have reason to do this very much this season because like everything else with the Mountaineer basketball team, Matt Humphrey couldn’t deliver the goods.
He was supposed to be a shooter, but when you can’t raise your arms above your shoulders there isn’t much you can do as a basketball player except the worst kind of pain, not the physical pain that comes with the injury, the excruciating pain of watching your team need what you can provide when you are unable to provide it.
He has played only five Big 12 games, only 13 games all year with an average of 4.2 points per contest. He put up nine against Iowa State, 10 against Duquesne and then in the Mountaineers’ last game, another loss, this to Oklahoma State, he matched that season high of 10.
True, there were only two baskets from him, but each was a 3, which is for West Virginia like Christmas in February, and scoring 10 points in 12 minutes is being Jerry West by comparison to what we’ve been seeing lately.
In some ways, you tend to feel Humphrey’s pain.
This year was supposed to be his escape, his move into a winning situation after suffering the pain of defeat at not one but two previous schools.
He was coming to a school that has a history of winning to play for a coach on the fast track to the Hall of Fame after bouncing around from Oregon to Boston College.
His first season at Oregon, 2008, was a disaster at 8-23 and 2-16 in the Pac-10. That was a long way to go from his native Chicago for that.
It got somewhat better the next season at 16-16, but that included an unlucky 7-11 in the conference. As some idea of just how snake-bitten Humphrey has been, consider that Oregon won six in a row that year ... and he missed the win streak with an injury.
So he transferred to Boston College, sat out a season, then was part of a 9-22 team last year, which went 4-12 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
If Humphrey has learned anything it is why teams lose ... even this West Virginia team, which was supposed to deliver a whole lot more than it has.
What did he see in common with the Oregon Ducks, the Boston College Eagles and the West Virginia Mountaineers?
“Inexperience,” he said. “All three teams had young guys. I guess the whole thing with guys being so good these days coming out of high school, it’s like young guys are going to prevail. Sometimes at the end of the day, coming through and taking care of business at the age of 18, that’s a hard thing to do.
“Sometimes guys don’t do that right away and they have to be in college a few more years. It’s OK. But it doesn’t matter with winning games. I’ve seen a little bit of stuff as far as that.”
As noted a day ago, WVU has lost a good deal of its last three recruiting classes, leaving it relying on freshmen, sophomores and transfers — inexperienced players or players inexperienced in the system Huggins is trying to run.
An old hand like a healthy Humphrey might have been able to give that outside shooting presence, but that wasn’t to be and so there he was, mostly lending little more than moral support.
Think about the inexperience, about the ups and downs of both Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, players who seem to be learning lessons instead of giving them every time on the court. Put them in there with the transfers Juwan Staten, who can’t shoot from the outside, and Aaric Murray, who has had more ups and downs than a pogo stick, and you can understand just what has been going on.
No one has taken charge, been a Da’Sean Butler or a Kevin Jones, a reliable performer who could make a big play, a clutch play, who made those around him better.
Humphrey thinks, in the end, that may be it, that there isn’t someone shining the light to the Promised Land.
“A lot of guys get stats and get it done, but may not win the game,” Humphrey said. “Maybe (WVU needs) a guy who gets it done and wins the game, just that person who is an exceptional leader.”
Put another way, considering the source, maybe the Mountaineers needed someone to “shoulder” the load.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.