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WVU Men's Basketball: Why Program Is Plagued With Attrition Issues

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The news that starting shooting guard Terry Henderson has decided to join Eron Harris in leaving the team has Mountaineer fans claiming that the sky is falling. This article explores the attrition issues in Morgantown.

WVU basketball has attrition issues.  Can Huggins stop the bleeding?
WVU basketball has attrition issues. Can Huggins stop the bleeding?
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The news that starting shooting guard Terry Henderson has decided to join Eron Harris in leaving the team has Mountaineer fans claiming that the sky is falling.  Henderson's departure makes 12 players of the 16 that Coach Huggins has signed in the last four years to either transfer or never play for WVU.

Players to leave the Mountaineer basketball team since 2012 include:

  • guards Eron Harris and Terry Henderson in 2014
  • guard Jabarie Hinds, center Aaric Murray, and forwards Aaron Brown, Volodymry Gerun and Keaton Miles in 2013
  • center Pat Forsythe, along with forward Tommy McCune and Paul Williamson in 2012

Forwards Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon have yet to play for the Mountaineers due to health and/or academic eligibility issues.

Sportswriters such as Mike Casazza write that the attrition at WVU makes it "...very difficult to build or sustain, never mind win and attract, with that sort of attrition.  And it absolutely merits an explanation...If we're honest, this is a major, major development."

Casazza is right.  This is a major development.

I have read numerous websites, blogs and twitter responses to the latest news regarding Henderson's departure.  Some commentators blame Coach Huggins for being too old school, like Bobby Knight, to relate to his recruits.  In part, I agree.  His sideline rants toward players during games would make a sailor blush.  We live in an age where kids' self-esteem has been prioritized higher than their work ethic.  Players should not be verbally abused during games.

Period.

Some fans blame Huggins for being too loyal to his staff.  These fans claim that Huggins needs younger coaches to mentor the program.

And finally, some bloggers are claiming, with little to no evidence to back up their claims, that Huggins has an alcohol addiction problem that is destroying the program.  These bloggers cite Huggins' 2004 DUI, his 2009 fall in a Las Vegas hotel room that broke seven ribs, and a 2012 appearance at a Nike sponsored coaching clinic in Pittsburgh where Huggins allegedly spoke while under the influence of alcohol.

Athletic Director Oliver Luck should definitely launch an investigation into the attrition problem in Morgantown.  If he hasn't already, Luck should conduct interviews with former players (transfers and graduates) and the current coaching staff.

I believe that what Oliver Luck will find out is this:  Bob Huggins wants to win.  He is hyper competitive.  He played this way during his three year career from 1975 to 1977.  I remember watching Bob Huggins play defense.  He might not have been the most talented player on the court, but he certainly put forth the most effort.  My dad used to take my twin brother and me to the coliseum a few times a year.  In 1977, we were fortunate enough to see WVU play Duke, Rutgers, UMass and Notre Dame.  It was Huggins' senior season.  I remember thinking "Wow, Huggins never goes to the bench and never takes a play off."  After researching the stats on Huggins' senior season, he averaged 30 minutes per game.  Huggins would have played even more minutes had he not been taken out of numerous routs (WVU went 18-11 that year and 11-1 in the coliseum).

It is this burning desire to win that continues to drive Huggins today.  WVU fans often lament post-game press conferences when Huggins rebukes his team for a lack of commitment - for avoiding the weight room and for not spending enough time in the practice facility.

I suspect that Huggins was calling out Terry Henderson, among others, when he made these comments.

Once called out, players can choose to step up, or step out.  Henderson chose the latter.

I also suspect that Terry Henderson wanted to be the star of the team...and knew that he wouldn't be.  Juwan Staten, Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon would assume star status, as numerous write-ups have focused on these three for the upcoming season.  Terry Henderson would remain a very talented role player.  His loyalty was not to WVU.  It was to himself.

Serving as a role player was probably not what Terry Henderson had in mind.  To become a star, he needed to work harder.  Maybe he didn't want to work as hard as Huggins expected.  Lack of effort and commitment to the team means Huggins showed Henderson, like Harris, the door.

I'm somewhat sympathetic to Coach Huggins because I played organized basketball for 32 years and coached for 14 years.  My novice part-time coaching career ranged from teaching young kids in "city youth leagues" to fellow Air Force military personnel on squadron teams.  I helped coach five championship teams in those 14 years.  I also had three teams with losing records - one year my team lost all 12 games.

In my experience, what separated the championship teams from the losing teams was not talent related.  Teams won because they cared, they practiced hard, they listened and applied what they learned during practice.  They played as a team, not as individuals, and they put forth extra effort to be as good as they could possibly be.

Coaching expertise matters.  So does player dedication, commitment, loyalty, teamwork and effort.

This mentality is what Bob Huggins tries to instill in his players.  He won't accept anything less.

He shouldn't have to.

Oliver Luck should interview Juwan Staten, Truck Bryant, Joe Mazzulla, Kevin Jones, Devin Ebanks, Joe Alexander and Da'Sean Butler before making any statements about the program or before changing coaching personnel.

Again, Huggins should tone down his verbal berating of players on the bench and during timeouts.  Demoralizing or humiliating players often doesn't motivate them to play harder or listen.  Huggins misses numerous teaching opportunities because of his caustic mouth.

However, the problem seems to be more player related than anything else.

Recruitment of players that share Huggins' highly competitive mentality appears to be the issue.

And that's a worthy discussion that Oliver Luck needs to have with the coaching staff.

As always,

Let's Go, Mountaineers!