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WVU basketball: Huggins looks for ‘little things’ in Classic

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - In the time that's passed since his team dropped its season opener by more points than he'd ever lost a game, West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins has come to an understanding about his basketball team that he's applied to others in his career.

"It's hard sometimes to make 20-year-old guys understand you don't have to score 20 points per game to be a good player and get all wrapped up in scoring," he said. "The reality is you don't have to try and score a ton of points. You can score points a variety of ways. You can score points off defense. You can score points off rebounding the ball. You can score points off movement. And then you can make shots."

Far too often last season and then the first game of this year, Huggins has seen his players try to make shots to score points the traditional way, which is to say not in the ways Huggins approves. Without those ways, other parts of the game slip and that invites all sorts of trouble, which is amplified by WVU's sustained struggles making jump shots.

"Do the little things to make the team better, which is what we're missing," Huggins said. "We've got too many guys who think they're the guy who's got to make the shot. I don't think we've got anybody who doesn't think that, quite honestly. We've got to get the other guys to do some of those things."

Matt Humphrey would like to be that guy for the Mountaineers, who begin play today in the Old Spice Classic, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. WVU plays Marist at noon on ESPN2.

Not to age Humphrey, because his experience transcends a number, but allow him to explain his qualifications.

"I played two years at one school, went to another school and stayed there two years and now I'm here," the senior shooting guard said. "I'm kind of washed up."

Humphrey is the 6-foot-6 transfer who played last season at Boston College and sat out the season before. Prior to that, he left his high school in Chicago and played two years at Oregon.

"I don't want to toot my own horn or anything like that," he said, "but regardless of how my situations worked out, I feel like I'm a pretty good basketball player. Last I checked, coaches like good basketball players."

Humphrey averaged 15 points per game and helped his high school go 30-4 and win a state championship as a senior. He then played for his country for the silver medal under-18 team in the 2008 FIBA Americas U18 world championship.

Humphrey went to the Pac-10 and was a starter for the first game of the 2008-09 season and ended up playing in all 31 games. Even though it was his first season, he was named the team's most improved player, averaging 4.4 points and 1.5 rebounds and shooting 35.4 percent from 3-point range.

A year later, he was ready for larger role, but missed 12 games with a knee injury and only barely added to his minutes, points and rebounds per game. He left for the Eagles in the offseason and sat out before taking on the role at BC that Huggins prefers.

Humphrey started 29 games, led the team in minutes (30.3) and steals (34), was second in scoring (10.3) and 3-point baskets (55) and third in assists (50).

"If I do what I'm supposed to do, regardless whether it works to our phenomenal favor or not, we'll still be all right, I think," he said. "I'm just one of those guys who's going to be all right."

The Mountaineers need that, especially in the backcourt. Humphrey watched games last year and saw WVU lose to Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament. Once he got the call from the Mountaineers after he was released from his scholarship at Boston College, he remembered the roster and how so many freshmen had so many learning experiences.

"I remember how I was when I was a freshman, so I can imagine how they were feeling, and I had a much bigger role than most of those guys did my freshman year," Humphrey said. "I can definitely understand the frustrations I had. That's a lot of the reason I think I'm here."

The Mountaineers played two freshmen in the backcourt together a lot last season and could have four freshmen on the floor at once. There were occasions they behaved like a young team in a physical conference and Huggins would criticize attitude and competitiveness.

All of those players are older by a year and by the addition of Humphrey.

"We won't be getting bullied, I know that," he said. "In college basketball, I definitely believe you need tough guards to win. If bigs can't get the ball, they're not rebounding, blocking shots, playing defense. They're not effective. It's hard for bigs to run up and down the court. Guards run the team. Guards run the show."

Humphrey had five points, four rebounds and three steals last week against Gonzaga, but he was 2-for-8 from the floor and 1-for-7 from 3-point range. The Mountaineers have a chance to see the Bulldogs again this Sunday, either in the championship game or in a consolation game.

The field also includes Big 12 foe Oklahoma, Clemson, Vanderbilt, Davidson and UTEP. WVU plays either Dayton or Vanderbilt on Friday, depending on the outcome against the Red Foxes (1-2).

"They play hard," Huggins said. "They try to spread try to spread you. They're like everyone else. When they make shots, they're very dangerous. When the shots don't go in, they struggle. They're considerably smaller than we are, so they're going to try to spread us and shoot the 3-ball a lot and try to back-cut you."


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