The Times West Virginian

May 9, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Huggins molds WVU into image of his UC teams

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — The other night, having made another wrong turn and winding up in a bar, I glanced at the television and caught the New York Knicks in action.

Not one to glance very often at the National Basketball Association, I happened to look up just as an Indiana player had grabbed a rebound and gone up with a follow only to have Kenyon Martin sky into the rafters and swat the shot all the way to Passaic.

“My God,” said the patron sitting next to me, “is Kenyon Martin still playing?”

Indeed he is, and had he been able to play back in his collegiate prime rather than having gone down with a broken ankle, Bob Huggins probably would have that national championship that has evaded him all these years.

He certainly is of that belief.

What makes that significant in the here and now is that with this season’s recruiting class it is becoming evident that he is looking to rebuild West Virginia University in the image of his best Cincinnati teams, hard hitting on the boards, defensively intimidating and able to run and score from inside and out.

It is something he had been lacking since coming to West Virginia, having inherited a team from John Beilein with players built for a different system and a different mindset. Indeed, much to Huggins’ credit, he molded that into a Final Four team, but in the two ensuing seasons he was caught in between what he was and what he wanted to be.

No more.

Huggins went after his kind of players in this offseason, bringing no fewer than six forwards, some of whom are going to remind you of some very tall 2 guards ... maybe even the kind of players Da’Sean Butler was in leading that Final Four team.

In truth, you saw one of them a year ago in Eron Harris, who as a freshman emitted the glow of a budding star who can do most anything he wants on the court.

The problem was when Butler left there was no one around to do those same kinds of things. This year there appears to be with a junior college gunner who took the strange route from Paris to Casper, Wyo., to Morgantown.

Remi Dibo shot better than 41 percent from 3-point range in his second junior college season while averaging 18-plus points per game. The gyms may be different, the competition may be different, but the 3-point line is the same distance from the basket in JUCO ball, which makes you think that will translate to Division I play.

So now you take Dibo and put him with Harris and Terry Henderson and you have a presence from beyond the 3-point line that takes pressure off the guards — who quite honestly do not do very well from 3, one of whom, Juwan Staten, doesn’t even try.

What’s more, the controversial other JUCO player Huggins brought in, Jonathan Holton, is nearly a 40 percent 3-point shooter, too, while also possessing inside skills and being the kind of rebounder Huggins had hoped Deniz Kilicli would be.

So now you have players who can score from the outside, ball handlers in Staten and Gary Browne, a host of inside forwards coming in with big-time credentials like Elijah Macon, Brandon Watkins, Brandon Williams and Nathan Adrian.

They bring the size that Huggins loves and the athleticism to score inside.

But what always made Huggins’ teams what they were was their rebounding. When a shot did not go in the basket, they felt it belonged to them, whether the opponents had shot the ball or they themselves.

Indeed, now you put in this mix his two 6-10 returnees — Aaric Murray and Kevin Noreen — and I am going to promise you one thing, and that is that this will be the top rebounding team in the Big 12 this season.

It is going to be a big team and one where Huggins seldom has to play Staten and Browne together, which should make them really hard to match up with, just as it was with Huggins’ best Cincinnati teams.

If there is anything that might hold this group back, it is that there are so many new players and that might take a while to work out, especially as demanding as Huggins is of young players who have never come across a coach like him before.

But the pieces are there now to move up the Big 12 ladder and to be a factor with Kansas, Kansas State and the rest of the power teams in the league.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.