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Huggins hopes he hooked some gems

By Jack Bogaczyk

Some recruitniks are putting West Virginia's half-a-roster basketball signing class among the nation's best 10, simply due to something Baseball Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver used to crow about his Baltimore Orioles.

The Mountaineers have "deep depth."

That "deep depth" may describe where Coach Bob Huggins' former cell phone is now, too, at the bottom of a lake near his cabin in the wilds of Ohio. He went there over Mother's Day weekend and while fishing, somehow fumbled the cell and it went glub ... glub ... glub.

Fishing is like recruiting for Huggins. "Of course I caught fish," he said proudly in a conversation from his new cell phone. "I always catch fish."

As for his recruiting bunch, the future Hall of Fame coach who will welcome that WVU class is reserving judgment on his seven signees, particularly since several of them will have to play significant minutes in the cauldron of Big East basketball.

Don't get me wrong. Huggins really likes what he's landed ... and particularly since his most significant senior, forward Kevin Jones, decided to return for his final season rather than unwisely push his luck with the NBA and will be around to help with more than maturity.

No coach really wants to be forced into a seven-player signing class - but it happens when your roster is absent sophomores. Huggins, heading toward his 30th season as a college head coach, has been there before, too.

Whether this WVU haul is his best signing class won't be answered for a couple of years at least ... and let's just say the new Mountaineers will have a ways to go to be Huggs' best.

Whether it's his biggest class, he already knows that one.

"Back at Walsh (1981, in Akron, his first head coaching job), one year I think we maybe brought in about 40," Huggins said. "The class in '91 at Cincinnati was big and had some really good players ... "

Huggins brought in eight players that year, most of the legwork done by his recruiting ace then and now, assistant Larry Harrison. One of those signees is currently on the WVU bench, too. Bearcat big man-turned-Huggins aide Erik Martin ... and he wasn't one of the foremost names.

"Nick Van Exel, Corie Blount, Anthony Buford (an Akron transfer), Erik, LaZelle Durden, Terry Nelson, John Jacobs," Huggins said, naming seven among an eight-man class that was the foundation of Cincinnati's 1992 and '93 teams that reached the NCAA Final Four and final eight, respectively.

Huggins also signed Shane Komives. All of the above started one or more seasons for Cincinnati except Komives, the son of late Bowling Green and NBA guard Howard "Butch" Komives. The son transferred from UC to BG.

While it seems on the outside that rookie point guard Jabarie Hinds will start in the backcourt with senior Darryl "Truck" Bryant, it's the other Mount Vernon, N.Y., product besides last month's Capital Classic MVP Hinds on the WVU roster that Huggins knows needs to be the biggest difference-maker.

Keeping Jones "makes a huge difference," Huggins said.

With the 6-foot-8 senior who has a chance to finish among WVU's career top 10 scorers, the Mountaineers go from a likely preseason second-division Big East pick to, say, about sixth.

"The main thing it is," Huggins said when asked about Jones' recent decision," is that it was the right thing for KJ to do. He made the right decision. I told people, 'Kevin will make the right decision.' I wasn't surprised. He's a very level-headed guy."

What Huggins needs from Jones - other than points and rebounds - is the kind of leadership skills the junior may have been expected to provide last season, when he was the key returnee after Da'Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith were gone.

Jones admittedly struggled with that role because he's not exactly prominent vocally. Then, Huggins said he has seen just this situation before.

"It wasn't Da'Sean's personality, either, when he did it," Huggins said. "I talked to Da' a bunch of times about stepping up after we lost guys in that role, like Darris Nichols, Joe (Alexander), Alex (Ruoff). Da' grew into it, and Kevin will be fine. He actually got into it more at the end of last season.

"He really picked it up. He's a very positive force when he plays like he can and steps up and encourages. He was great with Deniz (Kilicli) late in the year, really talking to him a lot, working with him, keeping Deniz's head in things."

Having a young team at WVU won't be anything new for Huggins, although it will be a departure from 2010-11, when four of his top eight players were seniors, and Jonnie West also averaged 8.1 minutes per game.

In his previous three seasons combined, he had only five seniors with significant minutes (Nichols, center Jamie Smalligan, Ruoff, Butler and Smith).

So, who starts in 2011-12 as WVU tries for a fifth straight NCAA Tournament berth?

It may depend on how Huggins wants to play things, big or small. Four of the five spots aren't tough to figure, in Bryant and Hinds in the backcourt and Jones and Kilicli up front.

From there? The only other returnee with quality experience is 6-5 rising junior Dalton Pepper, who has struggled to shoot on a consistent basis in a Mountaineer uniform. Another option, outside the newcomers, is 6-10 Kevin Noreen, coming back from knee surgery with a medical hardship season to remain a freshman.

"It could be Pepp," Huggins said. "It ought to be Pepp. He's been in things, knows what's going on, and at the end of the year, I thought he came on and really showed what he can do.

"But it's hard for me to tell you (on newcomers starting). You just don't know these guys' aptitude to learn. I've found out over the years some guys pick it up quickly, others don't, and you don't know what you're going to get."

That's what happens when you go fishing or go recruiting.

He'd gladly take what Van Exel, Blount, Durden, Buford, Martin, et al. brought his Bearcats. That's asking a lot, but maybe that's why Huggins has coached 691 wins.

Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at jackb@dailymail.com or 304-348-7949.


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