Huggins' freshmen have to grow up
MORGANTOWN - About a week into this basketball season, an opinion expressed in this space by this longtime press row-sitter was that Coach Bob Huggins needed his West Virginia rookies to mature quickly if he were to reach a 26th 20-win season.
Anyone who has been paying attention knows Huggins is still waiting.
While most of the WVU followers are wondering about next year in the Big 12, Huggins is wondering about next month. I get the impression he still figures he'll be 5-for-5 in NCAA bid seasons at his alma mater, and he'd be thrilled with 20 wins, but ...
No. 24 Louisville (19-5, 7-4) visits the WVU Coliseum at noon Saturday. West Virginia (16-9, 6-6) needs to win. It needs to win its remaining three Big East home games (Louisville, Marquette, DePaul), because I don't see the Mountaineers winning any of their three remaining road games (Pitt, Notre Dame, South Florida).
Huggins was out of answers on whom to play in the second half of Wednesday night's 55-51 home loss to Notre Dame, when his only second-half sub was walk-on Paul Williamson ... for shooting purposes, with 42 seconds to go.
His bench has been shortened by ailments and injury to big men Kevin Noreen and Pat Forsythe, but Huggins expected more from his freshmen who have had to do more than fill roles around veterans Kevin Jones, Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli.
What the WVU coach wants is some commitments, not the recruiting kind a kid makes before he signs on, but commitments to have your head into the game as much as your arms and legs.
"You have to know what you're doing," Huggins said after a loss that left WVU at least two Big East losses behind seven teams in the standings. "It's frustrating when I sit in there and say, 'Here's what we're going to run, here's where you go,' and then you got a guy out there not running the right place ... we dribble to the wrong side of the floor, and it's happened all year."
He knew it would be difficult. With a young team, Huggins still played perhaps the toughest schedule any of his teams - or any WVU team - has played. The Mountaineers went 10-3 in non-league play, but the Big East is a different animal.
"When has it been easy?" Huggins asked. "You've got to find a way. We sat down here when we were down to eight guys a year ago, and I told you we had to find a way (to make the NCAA Tournament), and we found a way."
Twenty-five games into the season, Huggins figures freshmen shouldn't be freshmen anymore. And he's right, because they're getting the opportunity because of a lack of veterans.
Seriously, none of the freshmen have anything to write home about except starting guard Jabarie Hinds, and on some nights backup guard Gary Browne, who is sometimes too aggressive for his own good, but at least he's putting up some numbers.
"The truth is, and I just told them in (the locker room) ... is we got a whole lot of guys who would never play if we hadn't had all the problems, (with just) three guys returning," Huggins said. "I told them, 'You had a wonderful opportunity.' The problem is we still need to win. And with that opportunity to play comes responsibility."
Too often, WVU's motion offense stands still. Huggins still says he has too many catchers and not enough pitchers, players who were accustomed to the ball stopping with them to shoot it because they were high school stars.
And if they'd shoot it and make it now, things might be different, but Huggins indicates too many of his rookies are letting the game come to them in the wrong way. He showed no hesitation in blasting them in the media room after he's done it in their team quarters.
"I'm used to... I just told them in there ... maybe I'm too much this way, but I know how much this means to our people, to people in the state of West Virginia," the 30th-year head coach said. "And it's not that you don't lose, but my God, ball's on the floor, dive on it.
"You're not going to get hurt. Listen, if you haven't made a shot in three weeks, maybe you ought to get into the gym. Maybe you ought to get into the gym on your own. We're only allowed to practice so much time, you ought to get in the gym on your own and shoot the ball."
Huggins used last season's blue-collar bunch, a supposed rebuilding season after the losses to DaSean Butler and Devin Ebanks, to illustrate what he expects ... and what he isn't seeing or getting. As usual, his soliloquy was as instructive as it was entertaining, but you wonder if the intended targets will get it
"I love Cam Thoroughman to death," Huggins said of the 2010-11 senior. "We're playing a 6-(foot-)6 - probably not that big - 6-5 center who couldn't shoot. But he did everything else for us, and he knew what he was doing, and I could make adjustments with him. The frustrating thing now is I can't make an adjustment. That's frustrating.
"You know, (Joe) Mazzulla, we all acted like he was John Stockton. He wasn't. He played hard. He competed. He had a great will. Couldn't shoot, but you know what? What I give those guys credit for is you walked in here during the day, those two guys we're shooting free throws.
"And Cam was an awful free throw shooter, but he was in here all of the time, working at it. He wanted to win. Difference? I don't see those freshmen in there all day, and I don't understand it, I don't get it."
He went even deeper into hoops history to make his point.
"When I didn't shoot it well, I was in there shooting the ball, man. And I didn't shoot it. I told them, all this stuff, all these guys, you think you work, the truth is I was the second all-time leading scorer in the history of Ohio whenever I got out of high school. When I came here they said pass the ball, so I passed the ball. I want to win.
"Whatever coach said to do, I did. I mean, we had guys like that. We still do. You come in here and Truck and K.J. are still in here, and they're playing 45 minutes a game, and Deniz has been much better lately, much better in terms of listening, much better in terms of what I ask him to do, much better in terms of coming to practice to get better, much, much, much better, but my God, look at the stats, man? If you shot that bad, would you be jacking 3s?"
What Huggins is saying is when you're still having freshman orientation in mid-February, it doesn't bode well for March.