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Huggins: We Don’t Have A Lot of High-Scoring Players

February 2, 2010

MORGANTOWN - Wondering why your favorite Mountaineers player, particularly if he's a member of one of third-year coach Bob Huggins' monster recruiting classes, isn't averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds per game?

Well, it's because he was never supposed to.

Just look at Devin Ebanks, one of West Virginia's most heralded prospects in years. He's averaging 11 points and eight rebounds during his sophomore season for the No. 6 Mountaineers.

''Devin Ebanks wants to win,'' Huggins said. ''For a guy who came in as ballyhooed as he was - if you remember all the national stuff, he was going to come in and take Joe (Alexander's) place and be our go-to-guy. He was very happy being one of the guys. He's more than one of the guys with all the things he can do for us. We don't run too many sets for him. He's better scoring because he knows and understands how to play.''

Still, there's little doubt fans expected his scoring to at least double - he averaged 10.5 per game last season - when they heard Ebanks participated in both Vince Carter and LeBron James' skills' academies during the offseason and emerged as the second-best pro prospect from each of those places.

Huggins said those scouts saw, just as he does, more value in Ebanks than just putting the ball in the basket.

''A year ago, his career high was what, 22?,'' Huggins asked. (Yes, against Syracuse in the Big East Tournament). ''He's never been a big scorer, that's not Devin. He's got length. He really rebounds the ball, and he's a 6-9 guy who can handle it and pass it. I think that's the value that he brings us. I was never looking for Devin to be our leading scorer or anything, that's not the strength of what he does.''

Frankly, that's not the strength of a lot of the Mountaineers players, particularly those who do not start the game.

As it stands, West Virginia's starters have scored 80 percent of the team's points for the season - with that being closer to 95 percent the last few weeks.

''That's not what they do,'' Huggins said of his bench guys. ''We don't bring John Flowers in to score. We don't bring Joe Mazzulla in to score. The majority of the guys (are that way). Cam Thoroughman can't score. You bring him in to do other things. As long as they come in and do other things, I'm good with them. They'll figure out how to score.''

Mazzulla, who is coming off a lost season because of a shoulder injury that is still isn't fully healed, doesn't even try to score, really.

He has shot the ball 26 times in 19 games this season - none from farther than 10 feet. At this point, his ball fakes from beyond the 3-point line do little to faze defenders, but they suck the collective breath out of a crowd that knows some day soon, he's going to let one go.

''You have to know how bad he was when he first started playing to understand how good he is now,'' Huggins said. ''He's never been a great shooter, but he's made enough shots people had to guard him. If he can get back to where he was or a little bit better, I think that makes us a whole lot better team.''

Marksmen like Casey Mitchell and Dalton Pepper are the only guys who come off the bench and are asked to supply instant offense, mostly against zone defenses.

Together, they've averaged 10 points per game, though a lot of that work was done in non-conference games, with Pepper's 15-point performance against Syracuse's 2-3 zone the notable exception.

''Turk's'' long-awaited debut

Help may be on the way for the Mountaineers bench in the form of Istanbul native Deniz Kilicli (pronounced Kah-LITCH-luh), who will make his season debut at 7 p.m. against No. 22 Pitt on Wednesday at the Coliseum.

Parked the first 20 games for an NCAA rules violation involving an instance in which he played with professionals back home, ''The Turk'' is ready to roll, and Huggins couldn't be more happy about it.

He thinks.

''We'll see how it works,'' Huggins said. ''They're always better when you don't have them.''

Kilicli participated in two exhibition games earlier this season, where he averaged 13 points, five rebounds and three assists.

But that was against Mountain State and the University of Charleston. That means he'll be in for quite an awakening, beginning his season right in the middle of West Virginia's rugged Big East schedule. It's almost all Top-25 teams from here out.

''Deniz has got to rebound the ball for us,'' Huggins said. ''I think if Deniz will rebound the ball for us, he can help us. I think he can score. I think he's a guy we can throw it to and he can score.''

Best of all, if Kilicli is as advertised, he can take some of the pressure - and perhaps some of the bruises - away from Wellington Smith, who is WVU's default center.

''What that guy (Smith) does day in and day out - everybody's bigger than him - and he has to fight for position every second he's on the floor. To be able to get him out of there, I think he'll shoot the ball a little better,'' Huggins said. ''I think KJ (Kevin Jones) will shoot the ball a little better. Those two guys get banged on the whole game.''

Big East = Toughest Test

Huggins has expressed his opinion on a couple of different occasions that the Big East is the toughest basketball conference in the history of the collegiate game, which is why he thinks you're seeing a lot of these games hinge on buzzer-beating shots.

He was talking about it again the other day after another tight battle against Louisville, which despite being unranked, still took the No. 9 team in the nation down to the wire on its own home court.

''It's the Big East, that's what happens,'' Huggins said. ''Coaches are too good and players are too good for somebody to walk through things."

Huggins mentioned how tough it was in his old Conference USA days, when first Denny Crum, then Rick Pitino were at Louisville, Tom Crean and Dwyane Wade were at Marquette, John Calipari was at Memphis, and DePaul had Quentin Richardson.

Triple that these days.

''Basically what they did was take what was really good from the Big East and then add a bunch of people from Conference USA who were pretty good,'' Huggins said. ''And I think that's been borne out. Marquette's been successful in this league. Louisville's been successful. DePaul's hit a tough time, but the good teams in that league are the good teams here. It's just that there weren't as many of them.''

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at:

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