Chuck McGill: Obstacles aplenty for UC's Osborne
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Seven of the 20 highest scoring men's basketball teams in Division II last season are part of the new 12-team Mountain East.
First-year University of Charleston Dwaine Osborne knows what he's up against. He just isn't quite sure yet what he has to combat it.
"We're going to find out if we're going to remain competitive," a blunt Osborne said last week from his office inside Eddie King Gym. "I don't think we know that yet. With six guys (returning) on the roster, that is hardly enough.
"Putting the roster together has definitely been patchwork."
Osborne, 37, was introduced as the Golden Eagles' new head coach Aug. 5. A mere 96 days later - Nov. 9 - he'll get introduced to how his team plays the sport he has coached for going on 18 seasons.
"I'm still trying to learn everyone's game," he said. "We've been about to do that a little bit, trying to get comfortable, but it's different watching a guy in an individual workout opposed to a game situation.
"You can go watch a kid in 1-on-0 individual workouts and see him shoot and make some shots, but then he gets in a game situation and he can't throw it in the ocean.
"I think we're still in the feel-it-out mode."
Osborne did not have the benefit of a traditional offseason after he was hired to replace Mark Downey, who abruptly resigned in late July. Charleston returns only four players with significant experience, and one of those, Hayden Annett, will miss the first semester after having foot surgery.
Senior Xavier Humphrey and sophomore Aleksander Kesic had 24 and 20 starts, respectively, last season. But overall, UC will begin the season with five healthy returning players who accounted for only 29 percent of the team's scoring last season.
League kingpin West Liberty, for comparison, returns 65 percent of its scoring from last season's championship roster.
Osborne's late start is a little like a college student attending his or her first class of the semester the week before a final. Now, he is cramming for a brutal exam. The pre-Christmas schedule will provide a heck of a test.
"We might get exposed early," Osborne said.
Seven of Charleston's first eight opponents had a winning record last season. Combined, those eight teams were 82 games over .500. That stretch includes consecutive games against Mountain East challengers West Liberty, Wheeling Jesuit, Fairmont State and Shepherd - four of the top six teams in the West Virginia Conference last season.
UC finished fifth in 2012-13 and third-place Alderson-Broaddus isn't a member of the Mountain East.
Osborne was born in Newport News, Va., and raised in Tennessee. His coaching footprints can be traced from Clearwater (Fla.) Christian to St. Andrew's College in Laurinburg, N.C., to Glenville State to Texas of the Permian Basin.
Along the way, Osborne has absorbed knowledge from his mentors and developed his own style.
He adopted the ball screen offense of Kansas Coach Bill Self and put his own spin on it.
It is also no secret Osborne is enamored with the 3-point shot.
"I love it. I love it," he said. "It's the great equalizer."
Osborne, however, knows this season might not produce a barrage of shots from beyond the arc. Humphrey (41) and the injured Annett (40) were third and fourth on team in 3-pointers made last season.
"Everybody says you need shooters; I say you need makers," Osborne said. "I don't know with this team yet if it's going to be our strength.
"We're going to have to do some things differently than what I normally do. I'm not the old coach who has been coaching 40 years and have been running flex offense the entire time, whether that coach has five Shaquille O'Neals or five Jason Kidds.
"I'm not like that. If we need to change things up, that's what we'll do to put this team in the best position to win."
Osborne will likely lean on senior transfers Denzel Douglas (a 5-foot-10 point guard) and Baptiste Boucharel (a 6-4 guard from France), two players who were going to join Osborne at Permian Basin. Freshman Denio Chirindja (6-6 forward) is another newcomer who will play early and often, while former Tug Valley teammates - freshmen Mikey Newsome (5-10) and Austin Brewer (6-1) - might be counted on to play earlier than planned because of depth.
Former George Washington High School guard Tino DiTrapino, now a sophomore, should play significantly more than the 6.7 minutes per game he logged last season. Another freshman, John Starks, was once headed to play hoops at Navy.
How the newcomers blend with the returnees - and how quickly Osborne can assess what he has and how to facilitate that cohesion - is the key to UC's first two months.
"That," Osborne said, "remains to be seen."
Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at email@example.com or 304-348-7949. Follow him on Twitter @chuckmcgil.