It had been a while since I thought about the WVU men’s basketball team.
Yet last week I had a chance to talk to Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins. And it opened my eyes to the wheels that have been turning since last season’s disappointing 15-21 record.
For instance, I knew the roster had undergone a spring cleaning, but I didn’t realize exactly how deep the cleaning went. Did you know more players from last season’s Mountaineer team are gone – for whatever reason – than returning?
Count it up. Sagaba Konate, James “Beetle” Bolden, Esa Ahmad, Lamont West, Wes Harris, Andrew Gordon, Trey Doomes and Taevon Horton are gone. That’s eight. Returning are Derek Culver, Jermaine Haley, Jordan McCabe, Emmitt Matthews, Chase Harler, Brandon Knapper and Logan Routt. That’s seven.
Also, if you check the upcoming roster, you’ll see Huggins – in great shape with big men Culver and five-star recruit Oscar Tshiebwe – has flooded the team with guards. In addition to Haley, McCabe, Knapper and Harler, WVU has added Taz Sherman, Sean McNeil and Miles “Deuce” McBride.
“We’ve got plenty of guards,” said the coach.
Indeed, anticipate a three-guard rotation, although Haley is 6-foot-7.
And while on Mountaineers that measure 6-7, Huggins said Matthews, a sophomore forward, is “at this point, our most improved kid.” In 32 games last season, the Tacoma, Washington, product averaged 5.4 points and 3.1 rebounds.
But back to the guards. Did you know McCabe just returned from an injury?
“He had an MCL [injury] and just started playing,” Huggins said.
It will be interesting to see how McCabe responds. He’s the team’s best returning 3-point shooter (33.8 percent) and had a team-high 88 assists in 2019-19.
“He knows now what it takes to be a point guard in college,” Huggins said. “In high school, he was so much more talented than others he got away with things he couldn’t at this level. He learned from that. He’s a student of the game.”
Huggins also had some interesting tidbits to say about his newcomers.
Of Tshiebwe, the coach couldn’t say enough good things – and that’s not counting the way the forward plays. Huggins called him a “great kid, a great teammate and a hard worker.” Then he said the McDonald’s All-America pick is “a great rebounder who runs the floor as well as any big in the country.”
But – yet again – back to the guards.
The Mountaineer coach uncorked this about Sherman, a 6-4 junior from Collin College:
“He’s one of our better athletes,” Huggins said. “He’s an elite athlete. He’s fast. He jumps. He runs. He’s a multi-talented scorer. He can score from a lot of positions on the floor.”
McNeil, a 6-3 sophomore from Sinclair Community College, is known as a shooter – especially after last season’s 55-point outburst.
“He’s 6-3, probably, and has really good strength,” Huggins said. “I think he can guard bigger guys because of his strength.”
And don’t forget about McBride, a 6-2 freshman from Cincinnati.
“Deuce is going to play,” Huggins said. “He plays with a lot more maturity than a freshman. He kind of reminds everybody of a Tarik Phillip. Long like that. Good defender. And he can make shots.”
Oh, and, yes, I asked Huggins if he’s going to bring back “Press Virginia.”
“We’re going to try,” he said.
I hear through the grapevine congratulations are in order for ex-Mountaineer and College Football Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen, now 83.
The scoop is the ol’ ballcoach is getting married to Janice Runner, an ex-Mountaineer Athletic Club employee and former Miss West Virginia.
Both are terrific people and, especially in this case, winners.
God bless them both.
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