Bob Huggins likes where his team is at heading into preseason practice, which officially begins today inside West Virginia’s brand new basketball practice facility.
“They are in great shape,” Huggins said Thursday. “Deniz (Kilicli) is in the best shape of his life. His body fat is way down. He’s running so much better. I think the only negative has been that we’ve had some guys kind of nicked up. Aaric Murray
is not in very good shape because he has had a bad back for a while and obviously Juwan (Staten) is not good to go yet (knee). Matt (Humphrey’s shoulder) got cleared yesterday so this is the first time he will be able to go full go. Kevin Noreen
had a little deal missing some days, but other than that it’s all good.”
Despite losing the top two scorers from last year’s team that won 19 games and made a fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, Huggins believes this year’s team has a much higher ceiling because of the number of experienced players that are returning. Plus, it will be a lot easier organizing practices this year because there are fewer younger players that he has to deal with.
“Last year was hard,” Huggins admitted. “We just had stuff going on everywhere and we couldn’t fix everything. Our guys now have got so much better idea of what we want and what’s expected of them. We can kind of start to fine-tune things better because you’re not dealing with so much all at once.”
Three starters return this year, headlined by the 6-foot-9 senior Deniz Kilicli
who averaged 10.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Keaton Miles
and sophomore guard Jabari Hinds are also returning starters, but it’s anyone’s guess who will ultimately wind up in the starting lineup when West Virginia takes on Gonzaga to open the regular season on Nov. 12.
Huggins has a trio of touted transfers – Juwan Staten
and Aaric Murray
- here last year – to go with Boston College import Matt Humphrey
, who began his college career at Oregon. Humphrey is expected to give the Mountaineers some size in the backcourt and much-needed outside shooting.
“He’s got a pretty good idea of how to play,” said Huggins. “I think the first time I watched him play that is what impressed me more than anything was his understanding of how to play and how things happen. Plus, he can make shots. It’s kind of refreshing watching it go in sometimes. I haven’t seen that much.”
Murray is probably West Virginia’s best pro prospect, but he was limited last year in what he could do because of a broken hand and Huggins said he is coming in this year basically starting over.
“He got nothing out of last year because of his hand,” said Huggins. “It wasn’t anything anybody could do. He’s not like Staten is. He’s not like a returning guy because he missed so much. He doesn’t know a whole lot more than what the freshmen know really. He stood there and watched, but you don’t get a whole lot out of standing and watching. He’s got to go. We can’t worry about that.”
What Murray can potentially give the Mountaineers is an explosive baseline player with great finishing skills around the basket.
“He’s 6-10, he can run, he’s long and really he’s got a pretty good touch. He shoots it pretty well,” said Huggins.
Speaking of shooters, Huggins believes he’s got two more good ones to utilize in freshmen Eron Harris
and Terry Henderson
. Also, Hinds, Staten and sophomore Gary Browne
have also worked hard on their outside this summer.
can make shots and Terry Henderson
can make shots. Matt Humphrey
can make shots. And our other guys have been in the gym a bunch,” Huggins said.
Last year’s offense came from Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant. This year, it could come from anybody and Huggins said that might actually make it more difficult for teams to guard against.
“Opposing coaches would tell me when I was at Cincinnati that when I didn’t have a Kenyon (Martin) or I didn’t have a (Nick) Van Exel or I didn’t have a (Danny) Fortson that we were harder to guard,” Huggins explained. “When I had Ruben Patterson and Bobby Brannen and DeJuan Baker and those guys that you couldn’t key so much on certain guys, so we were harder to guard because you never knew where it was coming from.
“Hopefully we can do that. Hopefully we can get points from a variety of places and take advantage of what they are doing,” Huggins said. “I think with Deniz and Aaric we have to throw it close some. I think we can take advantage of some scoring in transition, which we haven’t been able to do (in the past). Let’s be honest, if we were two on one there was just a good a chance that we would throw it away to where we’d get a shot.”
The preseason Big 12 media poll came out yesterday predicting a sixth place finish for the Mountaineers. For those that have closely followed Bob Huggins’ career, that’s a hard one to figure.
“Honestly, if we’re the sixth-best team in the league then it’s a hell of a league,” Huggins said. “This is a team that if I had scheduled it that way could win 25 games. It’s going to be really hard with who we’re playing, but if we did what a lot of people do and play 18 home games and buy everybody in we can win 25 games with this group.”
“Most people would say that’s a pretty good team. Now we are probably not going to win 25 with who we play, but we’ve got a chance to be pretty good. I said that all along. I haven’t seen anything that would make me feel otherwise, other than guys getting hurt.”Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.