After news broke that four-star small forward Jalen Bridges had not only committed to WVU but signed and enrolled, Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins was understandably in a good mood.
How, he was asked, did he land the national Top 100 player?
“My effervescent charm,” Huggins deadpanned.
Whatever the strategy, life is suddenly very good for the coach. Check the updated roster. There aren’t one, two or three four-star players listed. There are – count ‘em – five that were rated either as a five- or four-star player.
Of course, 6-9 freshman big man Oscar Tshiebwe, a former McDonald’s All-America pick, leads the way as a five-star player, according to Rivals. Jordan McCabe (247 Sports), Emmitt Matthews Jr. (Rivals), Derek Culver (both 247 and Rivals) and now Bridges (both) were accorded four stars.
That’s a good way to rebound from a 15-21 season. And it’s savvy to get Bridges before he took visits to places like Alabama, Indiana, Miami or Xavier.
Bridges, who attended Fairmont Senior before initially enrolling at Scotland Campus, a prep school in Pennsylvania, was the Mountain State’s player of the year last season. He averaged 21.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.9 steals per game. He shot 62.1 percent from the field. Nationally, 247 placed him No. 67 among all players, while he was ESPN’s No. 72 and Rivals’ No. 93.
“First off, this gives us size on the perimeter,” Huggins said via a phone interview. “That’s something we needed. He’s got great size; he’s got great length. He’s a guy who can consistently make shots for us. He’s proven that.
“He gives us another very capable rebounder. Also, he’s a great teammate. He fits in extremely well with our guys. Our guys like him. He likes our guys. It’s been a very close-knit group and it will continue to be with him.”
Indeed, much is looking up in Huggins Land. Just after news broke of Bridges, three-star Wildwood (N.J.) Catholic forward Taj Thweatt committed over Florida, Penn State and Temple. Plus, WVU is seeking a waiver for Arkansas transfer Gabe Osabuohein.
As for the present, though, the coach was happy to land 6-7 Bridges.
“I just think it was a matter of getting him down here for an extended period of time (this past weekend),” Huggins said. “He’s been here for a practice or a game. But he was able to spend some time around the team and coaching staff. It was key.”
It will be interesting to see how the team melds. There are seniors like Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler and Logan Routt. Brandon Knapper is back. There are newcomers like JUCO sharpshooter Sean McNeil, junior Taz Sherman and Miles McBride.
“I like ‘em,” Huggins said. “I like most everything about them. They get along well. We – for the most part – can make shots. We have size on the interior. I mean, we have to guard better, but I think every coach in America would say that this time of year.”
Oh, and one can’t talk to Huggins without asking about Tshiebwe.
“He’s doing great,” Huggins said. “It’s a good situation having him, Logan and Derek in there. Then Gabe is another guy that brings strength and athleticism to the front line. It’s been competitive.”
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