Mike Casazza: Marcus Smart reminds Huggins of Jason Kidd
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Almost 20 years ago, Bob Huggins led Cincinnati onto a basketball court in Orlando, Fla., to play the California Golden Bears. Who and what he saw that night was unlike anyone and anything he would see until last season.
The once-in-a-generation exploits of a star from the past were mimicked twice by a certain star of the future.
In WVU's two games against Oklahoma State last season, Huggins saw in freshman Marcus Smart what he'd seen in February 1994.
"I thought he was absolutely terrific," Huggins said over the summer. "I don't know that we've played against a guy that controls the game from the point guard position like he does since I was at Cincinnati and we played against Jason Kidd."
It was Kidd who led Cal to an 89-80 victory in overtime with 22 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and three steals and played all but the final 20 or so seconds of a feverish non-conference showdown.
Afterward, Huggins told the Sun Sentinel, "Jason delivers the ball, gets the ball to the open man. I'd kill for a guy that could do that."
Huggins has one now, and so impressed is Huggins with junior Juwan Staten that he's running out of ways to compliment him. When a new face of an unfamiliar place asks Huggins about just how good Staten is, Huggins find some assembly or words to say it's neither new nor surprising.
"He's kind of been doing it all year," Huggins said after Monday's win at Texas Tech and about a dozen or so other occasions this season.
As good as the preseason All-American and Big 12 player of the year Smart has been for Oklahoma State, it had been Staten who was the only player in the nation averaging at least 16 points (16.8), six rebounds (6.1) and six assists (6) before Iowa State's DeAndre Kane (16.1, 7.1, 6.29) joined the club Tuesday night.
Staten's matchup with Smart is the headline attraction when the Mountaineers (10-5, 2-0 Big 12) play host to the 11th-ranked Cowboys (12-2, 1-1) at 4 p.m. Saturday inside the Coliseum.
"He's definitely a confident player," Staten said. "He's very strong at the guard position. He's a matchup problem because he's a bigger guard. He plays hard. He's tough. His numbers speak for themselves."
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Smart, who Huggins believes would have been the No. 1 pick in last year's NBA Draft, averages 17 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4 assists. He leads the Big 12 in steals per game (2.43) and is in the top 10 in the league in 3-point baskets and field-goal percentage and has taken more free throws than everyone but Oklahoma's Jordan Woodard.
"He makes shots when he has to," Huggins said. "He gets his teammates involved. He can affect the game at both ends of the floor. He's a terrific rebounder. Jason Kidd in a lot of ways influenced the game and I think that's what Marcus does."
WVU had mixed success against Smart in two losses last season. He had 14 points and four assists in both games, but totaled only five rebounds. He had 10 turnovers and missed 11 of 19 shots, but also made 11 of 13 free throws.
And in key moments of both games, Smart asserted himself and led the Cowboys to double-digit victories.
Smart has seen comparisons to Brooklyn's Deron Williams and New Orleans' Jrue Holiday in the NBA because they are bigger guards who use height and weight to control their play and their opponents.
"A lot of people call me Andre Miller," he said of the well-traveled guard whose 14 points, eight assists and three steals helped Utah beat WVU in the 1998 tournament, "because they say I can't shoot."
The comparison to Kidd, who's just about the same size and who had shooting troubles of his own before retiring with the third-most 3-point baskets in league history, pleases him most.
"I can see it," Smart said. "Jason Kidd was a big point guard. He could see the court very well and he understood what it took to win and he was a fearless competitor who could always get his teammates involved."
That the similarities were drawn by Huggins, who tangled with Kidd long ago and remained impressed for two decades, matters just as much.
"That's an honor," Smart said. "Bob's a very good coach, especially defensively. I remember playing against West Virginia and they know how to play defense. Their will to stop you and not let you score is incredible, so coming from Bob, that's a great compliment."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu.