Huggins Looking for Someone to Step up in 2013-14

When Bob Huggins thinks back to his club’s first season in the Big 12, he’s able to identify everything that went wrong. He tried to fix it during the season, but putting a finger in the dike just exposed another hole somewhere else.

In short, the Mountaineers weren’t fit for the style of play in the Big 12, which varied wildly from the banging in the Big East.

They weren’t a terribly good rebounding team, something that bothers Huggins perhaps more than anything else on a basketball court. If you’re not crashing the boards, you’re not playing hard. And if you’re not playing hard, you might as well play somewhere else.

And last season’s team did not have a go-to guy. No one on the club averaged double figures in points and it didn’t really matter who took the last shot, because plenty of players tried it … and they all missed.

It was a season that ended with a 13-19 record, a seven-game losing streak, and with the Mountaineers never beating anyone above them in the league standings.

It was the worst single-season record a Huggins-coached team had ever experience.

Since, three seniors graduated and three other players transferred out of the program. And Huggins has brought in six new players – four true freshmen and two junior college players – in hopes of fixing things in a hurry.

Clearly, Huggins thinks there’s some immediate impact players in the class – Remi Dibo, Nathan Adrian, Jonathan Holton, Elijah Macon, Brandon Watkins and Devin Williams – but admits recruiting is anything but an exact science.

”You don’t generally recruit junior college guys not to play,” he said.

But it’s happened. Under his watch.

”We’ve made some mistakes. I don’t deny that,” he said.

Because of the length of these players, Huggins thinks he’s solved at least one of the major problems the Mountaineers were facing. Each of the six players he brought in is 6-foot-7 or taller.

”Hopefully we’re going to make some shots,” he said. ”I can tell you this, we’re going to rebound that thing. We went from being the worst rebounding team in the Big East to the best rebounding team in the Big East to one of the worst rebounding teams in the Big 12. We’re just not going to do that anymore.

”If it doesn’t go in, don’t worry about it. We’re going to get it back. That’s kinda what I’ve decided. I’m not sure we’re going to get it up the floor. ..”

Bigger guys who can shoot, as Huggins believes many of these new guys can, might help with the style of play. In the Big 12, even the centers can knock down long-range shots, which left no room for Big East-style posting up.

”We have four guys that can bounce it, which is kinda what that league is about,” Huggins said of the Big 12. ”We didn’t have that.”

The last issue may be the toughest to solve. Last season was among the very few times in his coaching career, Huggins couldn’t find a go-to guy.

”I came in and we got Joe Alexander and Joe Alexander stepped up,” Huggins said. ”Then we lost Joe. Joe left early in the draft. So I said to ‘Da’ (DaSean Butler), you have to step up. We lost Da, Kevin Jones steps up. We lose Kevin Jones and you think one of those other guys will step up and they didn’t do it.”

He then reeled off an impressive list of successors from his days at the University of Cincinnati, all of whom led the way at one point or another -Herb Jones, Nick Van Exel, Dontonio Wingfield, Danny Fortson, Bob Brannen, Kenyon Martin, and Steve Logan.

”We expected somebody to step up because they always have,” Huggins said. ”It didn’t happen.”

Given the unknowns among the new guys, that guy may have to come from the threesome of senior Aric Murray or sophomores Terry Henderson or Eron Harris.

Each of those three have shown a glimmer, but Huggins needs a spotlight. If he gets it, from those three or any one of the new guys, Huggins may well direct a quick turnaround.

”I think they realize there’s an opportunity,” he said.

”I’m not saying anything I haven’t said or that those guys don’t know and believe.

”We’re looking forward to a great year.”

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: