WHEELING - Bob Huggins is a straight shooter.
When he tells a crowd of more than 250 West Virginia supporters that he thinks his 2009-10 West Virginia men's basketball team ''can be pretty good'' he's not blowing smoke.
That's exactly what he's been telling fans all around the state at fundraising events during the last several months and he made a stop at Wheeling Park's White Palace for the 14th annual Belmont Mountaineer Athletic Club fundraiser.
''You've got to continue to build and bring in good players,'' Huggins said prior to addressing the audience. ''Our guys have all had good summers and I think are ready to go.''
Huggins isn't alone in thinking his team can be amongst the nation's elite a season after finishing 23-10 and earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament with a club that featured just one key senior in Alex Ruoff and included three freshmen in the top six.
The preseason poll in Slam Magazine has the Mountaineers in the top 10 and one publication has them as high as fifth. The folks in Las Vegas have listed the Mountaineers as a 6-1 favorite to win the national championship.
''We've got a real chance this year,'' Huggins said. ''We want to be one of the teams that people think has a chance to win the national championship every year. We're getting better.''
For West Virginia, replacing Ruoff is no easy task, but the Mountaineers' post game will be amongst the nation's elite with the likes of senior Da'Sean Butler and sophomore Devin Ebanks.
''I think with those two, we've got the best pair of forwards in the nation,'' Huggins said matter of factly.
Butler led the team at more than 17 points a game and Ebanks, who started 34 games as a true freshman, netted 10.5 points and nearly eight rebounds a contest.
In the backcourt, the Mountaineers are deep and again talented. Joe Mazzulla is back with the program, and according to Huggins has formally re-joined his teammates in workouts.
''Joe started working out with the team last week, his shoulder's fine and he's ready to go,'' Huggins said.
With Mazzulla on the shelf, Darryl ''Truck'' Bryant stepped into the lineup and did yeoman's work, averaging almost 10 points a game.
''Truck got valuable experience when Joe wasn't in the lineup,'' Huggins said. ''Both guys are crucial for us because there are some things Joe can do that Truck can't do, and some things Truck can do that Joe can't.
''Plus we're able to play Da'Sean or Devin there, and that really gives us a heckuva advantage."
Helping to fill the void at the other spot on the perimeter where Ruoff roamed will be freshmannDalton Pepper, who was the Pennsylvania Player of the Year and junior Casey Mitchell.
Huggins also likes the depth of his basketball team.
''It's going to be real nice to have a bench,'' Huggins noted.
The event was opened for questions and Huggins spoke highly of Jonnie West and Cam Thoroughman and informed the crowd that Wellington Smith has missed nearly the entire summer due to a stress fracture.
''I've been almost everywhere you could be in this state,'' Huggins said. ''We're able to go and let the people know how much we appreciate them and what they do for our program.''
''We're really excited about the building,'' Huggins said. ''It's something that we really need. When you're playing Connecticut at home and they're No. 1 in the country and you can't practice in your own arena, you need a facility.
''It's time, and everyone has been terrific around the state in helping us to raise the money.''
''I think we're on national television six times before Jan. 1,'' Huggins said. ''We're playing a heckuva schedule in the non-conference.''
The Mountaineers will play host to Ohio State on January 23 and will travel to Purdue on New Year's Day. They'll also trek to Anaheim to take part in a three-day event in late November. They will again play Marshall at the Charleston Civic Center and will also meet The Citadel in Charleston.