Preseason practice started Monday for the WVU Men’s Basketball team and Coach Bob Huggins addressed the media for the first time this season. The significance of this press conference is that it would be the first "Preseason Presser" since 1984 where Huggs had a losing season the previous year. He’s only had three losing teams in his remarkable 31-year head-coaching career. And at 13-19 (.406), last season was the worst Won-Loss record by percentage of any Huggins team in history.
There was a piece of info that came to light in his remarks that is significant for this season. For reasons he can’t or won’t elaborate on just yet, we won’t likely see Elijah Macon play this year. Bad news for fans. But aside from that, there were three things we could see in Bob Huggins at this press conference:
A Humble Huggins
He’s not normally super animated at pre and post game exchanges with the press – in fact, Huggins deadpan delivery can sound a bit like "Eeyore" (see Winnie the Pooh if you don’t have children). But Huggins seems particularly humbled by the worst season of his career – one he says was a completely new experience. Never before did he have trouble getting guys to play hard. Most fans will give him a break, believing that last seasons failures was in part the type of guy(s) that were driving the player culture. But one can hear an element of humble reflection in Huggins that is, shall we say, unique.
For instance, it seems that Huggins is admitting to miscalculating the players he needed to compete in the Big 12. While Deniz Kilicli was a good guy whom Huggins liked, the coach indicated that without a Wellington Smith "type" to drag players away from the basket, bulky Europeans don’t come in quite so handy. And Aaric Murray was neither a good shooter nor a physical battler, so he was doubly useless. Huggins & staff have now determined that they need shooters, plain and simple. If a player can’t make a 15-footer, they now have no chance of being recruited by WVU. And preference will be given to those with 3-point range.
Secondly, Huggins is also lamenting his approach to practice that has historically required the players to be there six days a week because, "I thought it would make you tougher." Something about the mental wear and tear of last season has caused him re-think his approach. "But I wonder, you go three (days) on and one off, maybe you’re fresher. Not physically, because those guys recover pretty fast. But I think mentally."
A Happy Huggins
Relieved might be a better choice of words than happy, but Huggins is clearly glad that Aaric Murray is gone – and probably the others who followed his lead. However, throughout the press conference you could hear the echoes of the negative influence that the troubled Murray had on last season. These were things that were rumored to have been his tendency at LaSalle and clearly followed him to Morgantown. Now his new coach and John Lucas will try to mentor these things out of Murray, as he plays his final season at his third school.
Huggins' laments only serve to reinforce what Kilicli said in Hertzel’s column last March, "While he did not name names, he said he played with a couple of "prima donnas," that he was playing with people who "didn’t want to win," that practices deteriorated into shouting matches with players quitting and that players actually wound up laughing at what coach Bob Huggins had to say."
Murray, of course, responded by tweeting his disgust with Kilicli, just before Huggins told Aaric to pack his bags.
Huggins says about this year’s team, "Their demeanor is so much different. Their enthusiasm."
Huggs on last year’s team:
- "We had a center and that didn’t work out very well."
- "I mean, we’ve got other guys who think it’s somebody else’s fault, but when you look at their stats they couldn’t have had a worse year. And there are guys who should’ve come in apologizing and saying, ‘Man, I’m sorry I was so bad,’ instead of blaming other people."
- "We had a lot of ‘brother-in-lawing’ going on last year. Don’t beat me and I won’t beat you."
- "What we lacked was a few guys that took to heart that you don’t waste days."
- "We didn’t guard with the resolve we had in the past."
- "We had a bunch of guys who felt they could do things a different way, maybe better, and after a while we tried to see if that was the case – and obviously it wasn’t the case."
- "We seemingly had a bunch of guys that were just hell bent on proving all the things that they couldn’t do rather than accentuating the good things that they did. And the worst part is you put other guys in and they were about the same."
A Hopeful Huggins
Cautious optimism seems to be the coach's tone this year. A year ago there was a bit of bravado via his intimating that they could be a 20-game winning team. It made sense to many of us that WVU would be moving from the powerhouse Big East Basketball to the Big 12 - and Huggins had produced winning teams for 28 out of the previous 30 years.
As some in attendance at Monday's press conference pointed out, it was obvious that last year had taken its toll on the coach. But along with his humility there seems in Bob Huggins to be an honest optimism. Not salesmanship or an attempt to artificially raise expectations (and season ticket sales), but a genuine sense that things are already different and that we can hope that the result will be different in 2013-2014.