MORGANTOWN — Let’s get something straight right from the top here.
Bob Huggins is not undergoing a rebuilding process at West Virginia.
Instead, this is a near total reshaping of his roster as he has signed former Texas forward Tre Mitchell out of the transfer portal. It is best termed reloading rather than rebuilding, even though there are a couple of complications. The first is that since this is Mitchell’s second transfer, the university has to get an NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility.
They went through the same process a year ago with Pauly Paulicap, but with the urgency Huggins has with this signing, you have to believe they feel good about their chances of getting the waiver.
The second complication is that he is their 14th scholarship and the limit is 13, which means that someone has to go. It’s possible that someone would not meet academic requirements or head into prep school for a year to make room.
Mitchell would count against the scholarship limit whether he has to sit out or not. Either way he would not lose any of his two years of eligibility remaining but make no doubt, the Mountaineers are eager for his presence in the lineup this year.
Huggins, you see, isn’t a patient man and is very much less so at age 68 entering his 41st season as a head coach. He owns 916 victories, but only 71 of them in the last four years, two of which ended with sub-.500 records.
As he heads into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this year standing second in victories among active NCAA coaches and fourth in all-time victories, he understands that he has made the turn and is heading down the homestretch of a historic coaching career but would like to give his alma mater and home state one final run to remember.
Much of what has transpired over the past four years has been out of his control and has had many fans taking to social media suggesting that he stayed too long and that he has clung to an antiquated style of basketball while having to deal with a generation of players who no longer respond to his tough love approach.
This, of course, is nonsensical.
Anyone who has been paying attention understands that he was caught up in a landslide of challenges that were totally beyond his reach in the COVID-19 pandemic, advent of the transfer portal along with the introduction of NIL legislation.
It was this, along with the lure of the NBA, that dragged Huggins’ teams down along with so many others. When one considers that over the last four years his grand plan unraveled because of these outside forces, one understands why rebuilding is not an option and that he, like so many of today’s coaches, has to live in the here and now.
No one could have envisioned the defection of both Oscar Tshiebwe and Miles “Deuce” McBride to Kentucky and the NBA respectively, as they happened, crumbling the cornerstone of what should have been a productive 2021-22 season that looked primed for an NCAA run.
Last year, Huggins was thrust into the situation of having to coach a team pieced together due to the defections instead of the team he envisioned and is comfortable coaching. He always was the bully on the block, but found himself physically unequipped to play his style of game, both at the offensive and defensive ends.
In truth, it was a blessing that most everyone was gone at the end of last season, which has allowed him to piece together a team that will live not off the fickle finger of the 3-point shot but instead on aggressive rebounding, smothering defense and an ability to score inside.
Mitchell is the final piece to the reloading process, he has Top 25, Big 12 experience at Texas under Butch Beard, a coach very similar to Huggins in his basketball philosophies and coaching approach.
Do not be fooled by the fact that Mitchell averaged only 8.7 points a game last year.
Given the chance to score, he can as he proved in two years at UMass prior to Texas. Mitchell’s UMass stat line showed him averaging 18 points a game for the 44 games he played there, averaging 7.2 rebounds with 52 blocks and 47 steals. He scored double figures in 41 of the games, five times reached 30 points.
He shot 51.9% from the field — which says he can make a layup — as a sophomore while also showing he can shoot long range by hitting 37.5 percent from 3. What’s more, he was a 76.8% free throw shooter as he was first team All-Atlantic 10.
The only real unknown on Mitchell’s resume is that he left Texas on a leave of absence in February and did not return last year.
His addition figures to thrust WVU into the Top 25 in recruiting the transfer portal this year as he joins guards Erik Stephenson of South Carolina and Joe Toussaint of Iowa and forward Emmitt Matthews Jr., who returns after leaving WVU for a year at Washington.
With an influx of talent from high school and junior college and getting forward Joe Okonkwo back from injury, Huggins has molded a team far more in tune with what he has won with throughout his career.
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