Big East

Summer Hoops Notebook

June 4, 2016

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Bob Huggins, looking relaxed, wearing some Jordan flip-flops and sporting a nice early-June suntan, spent some time yesterday afternoon with the Fourth Estate going over some First-Estate affairs with his Mountaineer men’s basketball program.

This weekend, the annual Bob Huggins Fantasy Basketball Camp is taking place inside the basketball practice facility.

“It’s fun,” said Huggins, about to begin his 10th season at WVU this fall, of his annual fantasy camp. “I’m kind of a West Virginia basketball historian and a lot of the guys, when I was a little kid listening to the radio with my grandfather, were playing so I enjoy it. I enjoy getting to hang out with these guys. I know most of them from all the years.”

Among former WVU players returning for this year’s fantasy camp are Bob Smith, a member of the 1958 team that finished ranked No. 1 in the country and the 1959 team that reached the NCAA finals, Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG radio analyst Jay Jacobs, New York City native Seldon Jefferson, a standout guard for former coach Gale Catlett in the mid-1990s, forward John Flowers, a member of Huggins’ 2010 Final Four team, and the Bulger sisters, Kate and Meg, standout players for the WVU women’s team while playing for veteran coach Mike Carey.

Huggins says it’s always great for his current players to get the opportunity to interact with the returning former players.

“They don’t understand how influential West Virginia people have been in basketball through the years,” Huggins pointed out. “Of course, there’s Jerry (West), who has been back, (the late) Hot Rod (Hundley) was back, Rod Thorn came back and Bobby Joe is back now, and he was one of the great players to ever play here.

“Seeing them helps their appreciation for things, particularly the way the people here feel about those guys and they’ve been gone forever,” Huggins added. “They’ve been gone way longer than I was gone.”

Speaking of current affairs going with his team, Huggins released the non-conference portion of West Virginia’s schedule yesterday with intriguing dates in New York City, November 24-25, in the Preseason NIT, a road game at Virginia in Charlottesville on December 3, and a marquee home matchup against Texas A&M in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on January 3.

“It’s too hard,” Huggins said of his latest non-conference configuration. “How am I ever going to win any games when we keep doing this?

“When I came back the first thing people said was we need to play some good games in December. We’re playing Virginia at Virginia but they’ll be back here next year, and I was all for playing the Big 12/SEC Challenge in December but TV had other ideas and that’s a great game. Texas A&M is going to be nationally ranked and we get them in here. I know our people love to go to New York, and going to play quality teams in New York in Barclays is really a good deal for us,” he noted.

Huggins’ team in 2016-17 is going to take on a little bit of a different look now that his top rebounder (Devin Williams), No. 1 scorer (Jaysean Paige) and best defensive playmaker (Jonathan Holton) have moved on, either because of graduation or getting an early start on their pro careers.

Huggins admits his team will miss those three players, particularly Williams, his nearly 10 rebounds per game and his ability to score close to the basket.

“How much different were we without KJ (Kevin Jones) or without Da (DaSean Butler)? You lose a great player it affects you but the good programs have somebody else step up and I think we will,” Huggins explained. “I think we will have guys step up and they will be better and their games will be better.

“Are we going to miss Devin? Sure. But hopefully Elijah (Macon) steps up and Brandon (Watkins) steps up. They have an opportunity now to show what they’ve been telling everybody what they can do. I think that’s a good thing.”

Huggins said he expects incoming freshmen bigs Maciej Bender and Sagaba Konate to help with West Virginia’s post-Devin Williams transition as well.

Konate is a 6-foot-8-inch, 250-plus-pound leaper who helped his high school team win a state championship last winter, while Bender is a mobile 6-foot-10-inch performer with stellar perimeter skills.

“Sagabone is going to play and Magic is going to play,” said Huggins. “At the time, you think you’re losing Devin, and you’re losing Brandon and you’re losing Nate (after this season) so you kind of want to fill those spots and I think Magic (Bender) is bigger and taller than Nate (Adrian), but he’s a lot like Nate – he can shoot the perimeter shot, a skilled guy – and Sags is 250 pounds right now without being in the weight room, and bouncy. He’s an above-the-rim guy and he rebounds it. That’s the one thing he ought to be able to do for us. I think maybe throwing it to him to score the way we did with Devin is going to take some time.”

Huggins said he expecting good seasons from Adrian, now a senior, and sophomore-to-be Esa Ahmad at the forward positions.

“(Ahmad) looks so much better,” said Huggins. “Physically he looks so much better and I think his mindset is better. I think his confidence level is better so I think he’s going to have a good year for us.”

More Summer Hoop Notes:

* Huggins was asked about the health of freshman guard James “Beetle” Bolden, who missed the entire 2015-16 season because of a preseason knee injury.

“I haven’t seen him that much yet and we’re going to start working with them next week so I will know more in another week. I think physically he’s fine,” Huggins said. “I was talking to Lamont (West) the other day and I think he said he was 196 pounds when he came in and now he’s 228, or something like that. They’re all working at it. They understand they’ve got to give us more than what they gave us a year ago.”

* Huggins said his players are well aware of the disappointing ending to what, otherwise, was a terrific 2016 season that saw the Mountaineers reach the Top 10 in the national polls and advance to the Big 12 Tournament championship game for the first time since joining the conference in 2012.

“They understand,” said Huggins. “We play in the Preseason NIT. We play Thursday-Friday, I believe, and we take Saturday-Sunday off to practice and then we face a good Manhattan team and that’s where you can say, ‘We came off of playing Oklahoma and Kansas (in the Big 12 Tournament) and we laid an egg (in the NCAA Tournament against Stephen F. Austin) and we can’t afford to do that.”

* There continues to be a thawing in the once cool basketball relations between West Virginia and Pitt now that Huggins’ good friend Kevin Stallings has taken over the Panther program, and the West Virginia coach foresees a time in the not-too-distant future when the two schools will be playing once again on the hardwood.

“I think it’s going to happen,” he said.

The last hoops version of the Backyard Brawl took place on February 16, 2012 at the Pederson Events Center, a 66-48 Mountaineer victory. The two schools have met 184 times since the cancellation of the series, which, up until that point had been played annually since 1918.

* With concourse work at the WVU Coliseum continuing into the fall, Huggins said that will likely impact some of the fall basketball events that typically take place at the Coliseum, specifically the Gold-Blue Debut and the one preseason game teams are allowed to play.

Therefore, Huggins said the Mountaineers will be taking their show on the road this fall.

“I think it a lot of ways the Coliseum not being available helps us in that we get to go to Wheeling, which I think is really a good thing, and we get to go to Beckley, which I think is a great thing,” he said. “And then we’re playing in Charleston (regular season game against Western Carolina on December 7). I’m one of those people who think we need to touch those people a little bit more than what we do and what we have an opportunity to do.”

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