WVU coach is ignoring Big East downsizing
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins arguably offers the best quotes among Big East Conference coaches. He’s unorthodox, witty and brutally honest about the breakup of what’s been regarded as the best basketball conference in the country.
Asked about the recent departures of Pitt and Syracuse and how those losses will affect the remaining schools in the Big East, Huggins responded that life goes on and that he doesn’t worry about things over which he doesn’t control.
“From the way I understand it, they are going to be in our league for a while, so it doesn’t change from our standpoint,” Huggins said last week. “We will play them this year and next year.
“In my eight years at Cincinnati, I was in three different leagues, so I am a veteran when it comes to league switching. When I was at Akron, we went from the Northeast Conference to the Mid-American Conference, and never played a game in the Northeast Conference.”
Huggins said it bothers him that football, not basketball, drives conference realignment that led to Pitt and Syracuse joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, and blamed his coaching peers for the breakup.
“It is all our fault,” Huggins said. “When you put basketball coaches in a meeting, we can’t agree on anything. We have Division III coaches in our meeting that don’t have any idea what we do. We have Division II coaches in our meeting that don’t have any idea what we do. Then you have so-called low majors, mid-majors and high majors, which all are different. Seemingly, everyone protects their own interest. We haven’t done a very good job of that.”
Regarding the fate of his own team, Huggins, two years removed from his second career Final Four appearance, was no less candid.
West Virginia returns three starters from last year’s 20-11 team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It’s a blend of old and new, with a roster featuring seniors Kevin Jones and Darryl “Truck” Bryant, junior Deniz Kilicli and eight newcomers (including seven freshmen).
“When you have eight newcomers, there are bad things going on everywhere,” Huggins said. “When you have two or three freshmen, it’s not too bad. Kevin knows what he is doing. Truck knows what he is doing, and Deniz knows what he is doing. When you have a young team, there is just bad stuff going on everywhere and you can’t correct it all at one time.
“Three years ago, we had three freshmen in our top six. If it is just three freshmen in the top six, you can figure it out. It is just kind of difficult right now. It is going to be a challenge.”
Huggins said he will showcase the skills of Jones, Bryant and Kilicli, while leaning heavily on their veteran leadership.
“(Jones) is going to be our leader,” Huggins said. “There is no doubt about that. He just has to continue to do what KJ does, and that is making open shots and rebound the ball. He is our best defender. He is a three-man that can guard the five.
“:Bryant) will be our best perimeter shooter. He will be our most consistent perimeter shooter. He is going to be a more productive force offensively without having all the responsibilities of a point guard.
“(Kilicli) is a lot better. His skill level is better. He just needs to continue to buy in. He had to make strides in rebounding. Jerry West’s statue had as many rebounds as him. We need him to go to that next level.”