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WVU’s Huggins Altering His Approach in 2009

November 9, 2009
By JIM ELLIOTT, W.Va. Sports Editor

MORGANTOWN - If Sunday's exhibition game against Mountain State, won 104-82 by West Virginia, is any indication, we're going to see a different kind of coaching effort by Bob Huggins this season.

While Huggins' first two seasons back at his alma mater were beyond brilliant, most of his hard work was done in practice.

When it came to mixing and matching in games, well, he didn't have a lot of choices. With veterans like DaSean Butler, Wellington Smith, Devin Ebanks, Truck Bryant, Kevin Jones, Joe Mazzulla, John Flowers, and Cam Thoroughman blending in with newcomers Casey Mitchell, Dalton Pepper, Dan Jennings, and Deniz Kilicli, Huggins has more options than Hugh Hefner.

''I can say this, you know when you have a good team or a bad team just by looking down the bench,'' Huggins said. ''If you look down the bench and everyone's going like this (arms crossed, back arched, looking away), you've got a bad team.

''I look down the bench now, and I've got guys jumping up wanting to go, wanting to know who they're subbing for.

''That's what you want.''

Bryant (nine assists), Mitchell (19 points on 7 of 13 shooting), Butler (10 points, nine rebounds), Smith (six points, five rebounds), and Ebanks (19 points, 10 rebounds) started against Mountain State on Sunday at the WVU Coliseum, leaving behind the man who wound up leading them in scoring and rebounding.

''I think I had eight or nine assists, and I didn't even do nothing,'' Bryant said. ''We didn't even really run good offense. We definitely got a lot more weapons this year, and I think we'll play like a top-10 team.''

The leading scorer and rebounder (tied with Ebanks) was Jones, one of the Big East's premier sixth men as a true freshman last season who went for 21 and 10 in 20 minutes against a team that boasts a pair of Division-I transfers and a 7-foot-8 center named Paul Sturgess (who played only 4 minutes, didn't attempt a shot, and had one rebound).

''I've never put a lot of stock in who starts,'' Huggins said. ''It's kinda who plays the minutes and who finishes games. I had a kid at Cincinnati. Darnell Burton never started a game, and I think he's like the sixth all-time leading scorer.''

Burton is also the school's all-time leading 3-point shooter with 306.

''It's good to be able to change the game by bringing in somebody off the bench,'' Huggins said. ''I think somebody like Kevin can come in and make an immediate impact on the game. I very rarely have started my best five guys. I didn't do that my first year here.''

Nope. Jamie Smalligan started every regular-season game that season until he volunteered to give way to Wellington Smith during the Big East Tournament.

''We brought Wells in off the bench because he had a better chance of changing the game,'' Huggins said.

For his part, Jones doesn't mind.

''Everybody would like to be a starter,'' Jones said, ''but I'm good in whatever role Coach puts me in. I'm always happy to play basketball whenever he decides to put me in.''

Jones added significant weight to his frame and a few more feet to his jump shot during the offseason.

''He does what you ask him to do,'' Huggins said. ''He does it so much that he really doesn't even think about it. He's really got a good pair of hands. He's 35 pounds heavier, and world's stronger so he doesn't get knocked off the ball anymore.''

Still, Jones wasn't the only sub to shine.

Kilicli, who will miss the first 20 games as part of a suspension for playing on a team in Turkey during the 2007-08 season that included a professional player, added eight points and six rebounds. Huggins was effusive in his praise of Kilicli, saying he is potentially a first-team All-Big East kind of guy down the road.

Huggins also raved about the kid's quick study of the language, which came mostly by watching television, saying he ''speaks better English than some of the guys I have had.''

Pepper's shooting percentage wasn't good (3 of 11) but he scored nine points in 11 minutes in his Coliseum debut.

Huggins did a lot of talking Sunday about how much more talent this team has, so much so he couldn't even put a number on his rotation. The last two seasons, that was the easiest question he had to answer.

''It depends on the day,'' he said. ''There's days where Cam Thoroughman's going to play a bunch of minutes, and there's days when he's not going to play as many minutes. It depends on the matchups and what we're trying to do.

''That's going to be the hard thing. That's what they all have to understand. There's going to be days when they play a lot more than other days. And they have to do that for the good of the whole.''

If it wasn't a problem making the NCAA Tournament with only seven or eight guys getting into games with any sort of regularity, how is it going to be one when nine or 10 are?

''That's good,'' Ebanks said. ''It's going to help us down the road. The NCAA Tournament, you may not necessarily need that many guys, but our legs will be fresh during the season.''

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at

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