MORGANTOWN — As Miles “Deuce” McBride and Jevon Carter were getting themselves into a New York state of mind on Thursday night, coach Bob Huggins was getting himself back into a West Virginia state of mind.
After the NBA’s draft night, McBride and Carter found themselves in the Big Apple, McBride as the 36th pick in the draft by Oklahoma City, only to been dealt to the New York Knickerbockers moments later. Carter, who finished up his third NBA season after being the 32nd pick of the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2019 draft and then spending two years with the Phoenix Suns, was dealt before the draft proceedings began to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Landry Shamet and the 29th pick of the draft.
They represented probably the two best guards Huggins has had at West Virginia, each capable of scoring and dealing the ball while also being a force on defense, but oddly Huggins isn’t sure that losing McBride was the worst hit his team has taken for the coming season.
There was also the matter of forward Derek Culver exiting into the draft pool, where he found himself drowned among the talent around him and was passed over by the NBA through the two rounds that carried on past midnight on Thursday.
“I’m not sure we’ll miss Deuce as much as we miss Derek,” Huggins said. “We just don’t have that guy to get the hard rebounds.”
While this is a team that is guard heavy with the return of both Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil, which offers up the outside shot they provided last year, and with the addition of Malik Curry, who transferred in from Old Dominion as an insurance policy over the loss of McBride.
McBride, a solid 3-point shooter, was most dangerous as he took the ball to the hoop, either going all the way to the basket or, far more dangerously, pulling up for a mid-range jump shot.
That mid-range jump shot from just inside the free throw line would draw help and allow him to lob to either Culver or wings Emmitt Matthews Jr. or Jalen Bridges, crashing from the side.
Curry’s specialty is taking the ball to the hoop from the point and is expected to fill much of the void McBride creates by his departure. Whether he carries the same intangibles of leadership and toughness that McBride had we’ll all see as the season wears on, but Huggins is convinced he picked up a player upon whom he can count in Curry.
But what do you do when it comes to those tough rebounds that Culver had a way of wrestling away from the opponents?
Determined and athletic, to say nothing about being overpoweringly strong, the 6-10 Culver was gold on the backboards. He was so consistent that in three years his totals were 258, 267 and 274 ... averaging 9.3 rebounds a game.
The trademark of Huggins’ teams has always been toughness and rebounding, especially at the offensive end and this season he looks like he doesn’t have the type of personnel to replace the likes of Culver, Kevin Jones or Devin Williams.
He will mostly play four out at all time with Curry, Sherman and/or McNeil at guards, Jalen Bridges and Isaiah Cottrell at the wings, all of them capable of hitting 3s.
This will all put a great deal of pressure on the Arkansas transfer who has become something of a folk hero via his toughness, defense and hustle — Gabe Osabuohien.
Huggins is expecting to see much improvement in Osabuohien as more responsibility falls on him in his final season.
“He’s put a lot of time in,” Huggins said.
Most of that time was spent on his shooting, which was a definite liability that allowed defenders to play off of him at the offensive end.
Osabuohien made only 17 baskets while playing 18 minutes a game last season. Almost all of them came around the rim, although he did stun the fans and the opponents by hitting two 3-point shots in five tries.
Huggins expects better results this year.
“I’m not going to say he’s a great shooter, but he can make some now,” Huggins said. “He’s shooting it better and he’s lost weight, looks so much better and is moving so much better. than last year. I think he is going to be able to play longer as a result of it.”
Keeping him on the floor for about 25 minutes is going to be important to the defense and the rebounding. Osabuohien, however, must clean up his penchant for getting into quick foul trouble due to his aggressive style of play.
He has fouled out of nine games in his two years at WVU. Last year WVU had seven disqualifications, Osabuohien accounting for five of them, while the previous year he accounted for four of eight disqualifications.
As for McBride, there was a good bit of hindsight on social media about his decision to go into the draft, then falling out of the first round.
But with him you must remember that he almost lost everything with a serious football injury in high school and certainly didn’t want to risk missing his chance at the NBA to one trying to move up from the 36th pick to 25th pick or so next year.
Players have to be smart enough to understand that the big money is not in the first contract, but in longevity in the league and that is something you can’t get if you don’t get a chance.
The Knicks liked what they saw of McBride in individual workouts and were considering on taking him with the 19th or 21st pick of the first round, both of which were theirs, but they wound up trading both to the Los Angeles Clippers for the draft rights to No. 25 pick Quentin Grimes, a 6-5 guard from Houston.
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