Many Questions for WVU Men
By JIM BUTTA
MORGANTOWN — In his own unique manner long-time West Virginia University head men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins thanked his fellow Big 12 coaches for picking his Mountaineers to finish second to defending league champion Kansas at the recently held Big 12 Media Conference.
“Well, the answer to the first part of your question, all those guys lied,” Huggins quipped. “They lied. There isn’t one of those guys that don’t think they’re going to beat us. So why would they vote for a second if they think they’re going to beat us? I don’t believe them.”
Huggins, a 1977 graduate of WVU, was introduced as the program’s 21st men’s basketball coach back on Good Friday, April 6, 2007. He has compiled a 791-321 (.710) record entering his 35th season as a head coach, which includes stints at Walsh College (1980-83), Akron (1984-89), Cincinnati (1989-2005), Kansas State (2006-07) and West Virginia (2007-present). He ranks third in total victories among active Division-I head coaches and has the ninth-most wins in college basketball history among Division I head coaches.
Last season, Huggins led the Mountaineers to a No. 8 finish in the final AP poll. WVU tied for the fifth-most victories in a season with 26. The Mountaineers finished the regular season with 24 victories, including 13 in Big 12 play — good enough for second-place finishes in the regular season and tournament. WVU defeated No. 1 Kansas, No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 13 Iowa State, No. 15 Baylor, No. 17 Iowa State and No. 19 Baylor during the season. WVU was ranked for the final 16 weeks by the AP.
“That means absolutely nothing this year,” continued Huggins.
“This team hasn’t done anything yet. To say that they will better, as good or worse than last year’s squad — it’s just too early.”
Gone are the team’s two leading scorers — Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams — as well as it’s top two rebounders — Williams and Jonathan Holton.
Paige, who was chosen for the Big 12’s Sixth Man Award, led the team with 13.7 points per game average while Williams, who elected to forgo his senior campaign for the NBA, was just behind at 13.3 ppg, but led the team in rebounding at 9.5 per outing. Holton chipped in with 7.6 boards and 8.9 points.
Fortunately, the cupboard is far from bear as Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, Jr., Tarik Phillips, Esa Ahmad, Nathan Adrian, Elijah Macon and Brandon Watkins return while Huggins and his staff were able to go out and recruit a crop of newcomers that are all expected to see action this season.
“We’re going to play a lot of people, so they’re (freshmen) going to play,” Huggins said. “Our two bigs are going to play, whether it’s the 6-10 freshman, whatever he is, 6-8 freshman, they’re going to play. I hope we can get into other people’s bench and make them play guys that they haven’t played a lot and just a cumulative effect of what we do.”
Carter, who led the team with 114 assists, is the team’s top returning point producer, averaging 9.5 points while Miles (9.4) and Phillips (9.3) were close behind. Adrian and Macon are the team’s top returning rebounders after averaging 3.1 and 3.0 respectively.
“Everybody,” Huggins said when asked about replacing Williams and Holton on the boards. “Everybody has to do their part. Nathan (Adrian) has been looking good in practice and our freshmen have been working hard on the glass.”
Those freshmen include 6-foot-10 Maciej Bender, who hails from Warsaw, Poland, and 6-foot-8 Sagaba Konate (Barnako, Mali) as well as redshirt freshmen Lamont West (6-8) and Cameron’s Logan Routt (6-11).
The remainder of the 15-man squad includes guards James Bolden, James Long, Teyvon Myers and former Wheeling Central standout Chase Harler.
“How good is this team going to be? I can’t tell you,” Huggins said. “I think we will play hard. But, will that be enough? I can’t say.”
“I won’t know anything until I see what they do when they are going against someone than ourselves.”