By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
A week ago, Aaric Murray was in a state of suspended animation, so to speak, his teammates in Brooklyn trying to figure out a way to beat the nation’s No. 3 team, Michigan, without him.
They couldn’t do it. Probably wouldn’t have done it if he were there, although they have been a different team and he has been a different player since, winning two straight, the second one being a hard-fought 72-62 victory over Radford on Saturday before a gathering of 7,073 at the Coliseum.
Murray’s sin was hardly one of gigantic proportions, certainly not as many had said it coming because coach Bob Huggins was displeased with his effort.
“If I didn’t play everybody who didn’t play hard I’d end up playing my managers … and I’m not about to do that,” Huggins said.
“Aaric’s situation was different than not just playing hard. He said it in the papers today. He showed up late. You’re not going to show up late — and it wasn’t a lot late — and play the next game. That’s just a lack of respect for everybody involved.”
Huggins was almost flabbergasted that anyone would show up late for a team function.
“I can’t ever remember anyone being dumb enough to show up late. That was a first,” he said.
Then he stopped to think about it for a moment.
“Come to think of it, Dom (Rutledge) was late last year, and he didn’t play either,” he said
Suspensions, of course, are done for many reasons by coaches, mostly though to motivate a player, to get him to fall in line and do the things he is supposed to do and do them as well as he can do them.
Many coaches use psychology, study each player to find out which buttons to push to get what they want. Should be tough on them or easy, a stern taskmaster or a kindly, forgiving approach?
Huggins doesn’t get into that very much. He believes in discipline and he hands it out as only he can, be it time on the treadmill or time on the bench.
He said it was best explained to him once by Jerry Tarkanian, “Tark the Shark” of UNLV fame, who knew enough about what he was doing to win a national championship, even if he may have cut a corner or two to put the team together.
“There’s only one pie,” he said Tarkanian had said. “We don’t have any more. We’ve only got one, and that pie is playing time and so-and-so is going to get way more than this other guy if he earns it.”
Huggins said Tarkanian went on to say, “They’re all going to get pie, but some guy may get a piece of pie that’s 30 times bigger than another guy because he earned it. You know, there’s only so much pie and you can only cut it up so many ways.”
He said he understands that, but he isn’t sure just how to cut his pie up with this team.
“My problem is, I don’t know who wants any pie,” he said. “You’d think everybody wants pie, but seemingly some of our guys … I don’t know, they’re good guys. Maybe they just want to share.”
Murray, however, since coming off his suspension acts as if he were Simple Simon as he was introduced to the pieman.
He’s playing hungry.
The truth is he is making the Mountaineers a different entity, and maybe not as advertised.
The word was that Murray was a shot-blocker and a rebounder, a kid who had the potential to score but wasn’t really known for that aspect of his game.
He was a 6-10 player who wasn’t really a post, but who could do some things.
No one said that at 6-10 he could play 5-10 if he wanted.
In this victory over Radford, his line was downright amazing.
He led WVU with 21 points while also leading in rebounds with 8 – tying Rutledge – and in blocked shots, even though he had only one.
But he led in assists with four, as many the top two guards combined, and in steals with three of the five WVU had.
He even took four 3-point shots, double the total anyone else attempted, but he made none, although he has proven he can do that, too.
“We all know he’s a talented kid,” Huggins said. “He’s learning how to play harder for a longer period of time. Honest to God, he’s been coachable since we got back from Michigan. He’s trying to do what we ask him to do.”
Had he learned a lesson by the suspension?
“I don’t want to talk too much about it, but I definitely learned my lesson. I will not do that again,” he said.
Not when he was able to cap off Saturday night’s dinner with some pie. In fact, he earned pie a la mode in this game.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.