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Mike Cassaza: Huggins knows what he's doing with recruits

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - What Bob Huggins has done this week to reconstitute the West Virginia basketball roster probably looks weird.

Adding a pair of power forwards to a team deemed in need of something else must seem as unusual as a 13-19 record for the man with the fourth-most wins among active coaches.

With that in mind, let's agree to question what is normal. Let's consider what might be the new normal. Let's understand that the experiences from WVU's first run through the Big 12 forces everyone to rethink what they once knew - or what they thought they knew.

This is not to say Huggins is about to reinvent himself. You'll still see motion offense and man defense and an absolute, and probably refocused, emphasis on rebounding. But how often did Huggins confess last season that he misread his personnel compared to the Big 12's? How many times did he'd say he recruited for the Big East and needed to prepare for the Big 12?

This is his counter.

The Mountaineers staggered into the offseason, turned the tassels for two forwards and a guard in the senior class and waved goodbye to two guards and a forward from the sophomore class who decided to transfer. A team that had a terrible time shooting and passing the ball, one that struggled executing and cashing in on half-court offense, went into the recruiting season looking for help.

If you need to shoot and you need to pass, you need to find guards, right? There are two answers to that and neither is wrong. Both explain Huggins' decisions.

The first answer is an obvious "Yes." But everyone wants guards. And by the end of March, just about all the good ones are gone. All the good programs have addressed their backcourt needs and the ones that have not are going hard after the few remaining prospects. Huggins and WVU should win some of those battles, but Huggins and WVU shouldn't add just for the sake of adding.

Recruiting can get a little complex in basketball, especially as we go farther down the road with the useful scouting reports and advanced statistics, but it pretty much always comes down to whether a kid is good enough to play. You better believe the Mountaineers are attuned to that now after watching the past few classes wear a path away from the Coliseum.

The second answer is sneaky. Simply, it's "No." WVU didn't need guards. WVU needed to put the ball through the basket. Who will do that does not matter and that's why junior college forwards Jonathan Holton and Remi Dibo seem to make sense. They're tall, they're not guards, but they both shoot 40 percent from 3-point range.

And truth be told, it looks like WVU might be all right in the backcourt for the next two or three seasons. Juwan Staten and Gary Browne are junior point guards, though both should probably find a way to make a few jump shots in 2013. Eron Harris and Terry Henderson are sophomore shooting guards who make 3-pointers are a pretty healthy clip, though both should probably tighten up their defense.

Whether or not WVU is set there for the foreseeable future depends on those players, but just WVU can't press reset every season.  

Where WVU needed numbers was in the frontcourt. The Mountaineers have just three forwards on the returning roster. One is Aaric Murray, a senior center who is, at best, erratic. One is Kevin Noreen, a junior forward who is reliable, but limited. One is Keaton Miles, a junior forward who hasn't developed and who has to be wondering how he'll find minutes in his future.

You see, WVU will welcome four frontcourt freshmen in the summer - that's how clear WVU's need was long ago. All four aren't going to be ready to play and WVU doesn't want to hurriedly lean on freshmen under the basket. The Mountaineers need players there, as opposed to bodies. The 6-foot-7 Holton, who has signed, and the 6-9 Dembo, who has committed and should sign before the end of the week, give WVU both.

Huggins needed shooting and scoring. He didn't need guards, so long as he got those qualities. Holton's reputation is that he likes to shoot from the outside, but that he loves to score and that he's figured out how rebounding or posting up and working with either hand will get him easy baskets. Dibo is a something like a shooting guard in a forward's body, someone who gets it in his hands, gets set and gets the ball in the net.

The Mountaineers need all that and more in the Big 12. They need to space the floor to facilitate Staten and Browne and give them a purpose on offense. They need to put shooters around the 3-point arch to make shots, but also to draw big defenders outside and create space for Murray and for freshmen Devin Williams and Elijah Macon inside

They need to create opportunities and guard against them, and both are now possible, which is really important for the latter. With so many similarly sized and skilled players, WVU should now be able to meet the small or agile Big 12 lineups and switch on defense to avoid bad matchups.

It's an unusual plan, for certain, but it's a plan. And if it's new, it might just be the new normal.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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