WVU basketball: Huggins impressed by newcomer
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Sitting out the first six games and 26 days of West Virginia's season was probably difficult for freshman Volodymyr Gerun.
It's not clear exactly how hard it was, or whether it was a challenge at all, to miss time because of an NCAA suspension.
The 6-foot-10 forward from the Ukraine has been silent throughout the season, out of mind when he's not out of sight.
"It's a hard situation to have to put a kid through," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said. "You can't possibly pay as much attention to him as everyone else. You only have him around for home games because he wasn't allowed to travel. He hasn't been around the team watching the film, getting the scouting reports, those kinds of things. He doesn't know what the other guys know and obviously he hasn't practiced as much as the other guys."
Gerun's suspension for playing three games for a Ukrainian professional team before signing with WVU ended before Saturday's 68-67 win against Virginia Tech. Gerun went through the warmups at the Coliseum, but wasn't among 10 Mountaineers who played in a game that tiptoed through the final tense 10 minutes.
In truth, the hardest part for Gerun may come as Huggins tries to find a spot for Gerun on a team beginning to find some momentum. WVU (4-3) has won three straight and can extend that in tonight's 7 p.m. game against Duquesne (5-4) at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center.
If Gerun doesn't debut against the Dukes, he's even less likely to make his first appearance Saturday against No. 3 Michigan at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
"We're hoping to get him in some games here so he can start to learn. We're starting to spend a lot more time with him in practice, but it's just a lot to learn in a very short period of time when you can't focus on just him," Huggins said.
Gerun could practice when he couldn't play, but he was preparing his teammates for the opponent rather than preparing himself for the opponent. He was helping Deniz Kilicli, Aaric Murray, Kevin Noreen and Dominique Rutledge get better before he'd even have a chance to make the same impression on Huggins.
That latter part has only recently started, but Huggins likes what he sees.
"He's certainly the best shooter of the five," Huggins said. "He's the biggest, the tallest of the group."
Gerun weighs north of 240 pounds and even though he's a good shooter who's played outside a lot in his career, he's also shown an ability to use his size and weight inside. When Gerun was leading the Ukraine under-18 team in scoring (18 points per game) at the European Championships last year, he was also leading the team with 11.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.
Gerun had 29 points and 14 rebounds against Italy and 19 points and 20 rebounds against Finland as part of his five double-doubles in the competition where he shot 50 percent (61-for-122). It wasn't the first time he'd made an international splash, either.
In 2010, Gerun was the MVP of the 2010 under-16 European Championships, where he averaged 17.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
"He's going to be a really good player, I think," Huggins said. "I just don't know when."
It may have come sooner if not for the NCAA suspension. Gerun's brief run with Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk brought the NCAA suspension, not unlike the 20-game ban Kilicli had in the 2010 season. Kilicli averaged 6.7 minutes in 15 games as WVU went to the Final Four. He had his moments and shot 21-for-41 from the floor and averaged 3.2 points, but needed the time Gerun needs right now.
"He's been getting better and he's been working hard," Kilicli said. "It's hard to practice when you're not playing, but his offense is not going to be a problem because he is a really talented guy. On defense, he hasn't been working on a lot of the stuff we're doing, but he can pick it up because he's smart."
Gerun, who was attending the Canarias Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands this time last year, has perhaps the best offensive potential among WVU's post players. Murray and Noreen have showed a shooting touch lately, Kilcili demands attention inside and Rutledge is the most athletic of the bunch, but Huggins said Gerun's skill is unique to the group.
He called a Gerun a "stretch 4," which is a power forward who can take defenders outside and either score from the perimeter or on drives to the basket.
Gerun can also bang around inside. He can set picks for guards, but also make jumpers when the guards make a pass after Gerun breaks the pick.
What's uncommon on this team isn't unfamiliar to the Mountaineers. Huggins offered a comparison to former forward Kevin Jones, who is now with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"He's more in that regard like K.J. than what other guys are," Huggins said. "Really, when you think about it, K.J. was a terrific rebounder and really a much better defender than what everyone gave him credit for being, but what he really did was stretch people out. You had to come out and guard him."
Jones was WVU's top scoring option the past two years. Gerun won't assume that role with the Mountaineers, but he won't be invisible much longer, either.
"He can make shots, I don't think there's any question about that," Huggins said. "He's not afraid to shoot it."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.