MORGANTOWN — When West Virginia opens the season at 7 p.m. on Friday in the Coliseum against Akron, all eyes will trained the 5-star freshman general of Bob Huggins team, Oscar Tshiebwe, for he is a program maker.
So much so, in fact, that there are moments his teammates simply enjoy standing around and watching what this man-child who outgrew soccer in native Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa can do.
There are moments in practice when he becomes engaged with last year’s super freshman Derek Culver that offer highlight reel stuff on both sides.
“It’s like two goliaths clashing in the paint and no one else wants to go in there,” said junior college newcomer Taz Sherman, who was brought in for his shooting ability rather than trading elbows with either Tshiebwe or Culver.
“They battle every day. You see both of their skill sets and they can really run. They run like guards but they play above the rim. It’s fun to watch.”
Not, of course, if you are watching from the opponents’ bench.
There are those moments, Sherman has discovered, when you find yourself caught in a situation where you find yourself one on one with Tshiebwe.
That’s like trying to win a 100-meter dash against an Olympic sprinter right after your pants have fallen down around your ankles.
“He dunked on me in open gym,” Sherman said, adding that he hardly feels like the Lone Ranger in that regard. “He’s dunked on a lot guys.”
And he will as the season wears on, just as Culver will.
But Tschiebwe can embarrass you because he does things you don’t imagine anyone doing.
“He blocked my shot on top of glass,” Sherman said. “That really happened.”
All of this says that Tschiebwe is capable of living up to the hype he’s gotten which includes being named McDonald’s All-American in high school and preseason Freshman of the Year in the Big 12.
Such hype has ruined many a career but Huggins, who has been on Tshiebwe’s trail for a few years, doesn’t believe that is going to happen, as it appeared it did with Konate.
“The important thing is he’s never thought that [he was special and we’ve never thought that. Oscar is a very level-headed kid. If anything it’s made him hungrier to be better because he knows he’s behind in a lot of areas,” Huggins said.
“He has a lot of basketball to learn but the good thing is he wants to learn. He’s being coached by us, by his teammates. A lot of guys coming with a big rep like him would just say ‘’I’ve got it.’ He doesn’t. He listens to older guys. He’s been great.”
While Tshiebwe is the centerpiece in this season’s bid for WVU’s effort to return to respectability, he doesn’t have the team on his shoulders.
Working inside with Culver, who with him, should give WVU the control of the boards that will allow them to rely on a pressing defense to get the ball and gives the Mountaineers a unique advantage over many teams.
But the emphasis throughout the preseason has been devoted to three areas that were totally lacking in last season’s 15-21 debacle — ball handling, shooting and team camaraderie.
This makes the littlest of Mountaineers stand with the tallest, for guard Jordan McCabe is being counted upon to bring this team together on the court through his passing while bringing them closer through his leadership.
As for the shooting, that area was addressed by bringing in a pair of JUCO scorers in Sherman and Sean McNeil, each capable of doing what WVU had expected but did not get on a consistent basis from Lamont West the last couple of years.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel