KANSAS CITY - West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, sporting a collegiate look in his navy blue West Virginia University letterman’s sweater, was asked during Tuesday’s Big 12 media day session about his latest fashion statement.
“Really good looking, isn’t it?” Huggins joked. “I’d figure I’d be the (former Eastern Kentucky coach) Max Good of the Big 12. I was in OVC with Max and every year he’d come in with an entirely different look, so I just figured I’d do it.”
Joking aside, Huggins soon got down to the matter at hand, which was to talk about this year’s remodeled basketball team that features most of its experienced players in the backcourt.
Based on the players Huggins chose to bring with him out here to Kansas City –guards Terry Henderson
, Eron Harris
and Juwan Staten
– West Virginia figures to rely heavily on perimeter play this year.
“Well, we’ve gone from, I think, trying to ineffectively throw it inside to we’re going to be more of a perimeter team,” Huggins said. “There are a few fun things left in this business, and I think one of them is to watch people mature.”
Of course he’s talking about the development of Harris and Henderson – two sophomores with potentially big-time scoring capabilities for WVU this season. Harris became the first freshman since 1973 to lead the Mountaineers in scoring last year with a 9.8 points-per-game average, while Henderson averaged 8 points per contest and was second in the Big 12 in 3-point shooting at 46 percent.
Harris went for a season-high 25 in a home loss to Baylor and also had 23 coming down the stretch against Oklahoma while Henderson topped the 20-point mark three times, including a team-high 23 in a road loss to eventual NCAA runner-up Michigan in New York City.
“Those guys went from being very shy, skinny little guys to know knowing what to do and kind of being not very assertive to taking a leadership role,” said Huggins. “We don’t have any seniors, and we only have five returning guys, so those five guys kind of have to assume a leadership role for us.”
Watching two young players blossom right in front of your eyes can make any old ball coach feel a little bit younger, says Huggins.
“It’s kind of fun watching those two young guys grow into that role of helping the younger guys with the things that I think they struggled with maybe initially a year ago,” said Huggins. “But they’re both talented guys and they’re both really good guys so we look for them to have big years for us.”
Last year was certainly not a big year for West Virginia basketball in its inaugural season in the Big 12 Conference, the Mountaineers dipping below .500 for the first time since 2003 when John Beilein was in his first year rebuilding the program. Huggins said there were certainly lessons learned in 2012.
“I think people assumed since I’ve been in the league for a year that I kind of knew what was going on,” he said. “I was kind of hoping that I did. But it was an entirely different league when I was there (at Kansas State). We had a north division and a south division and you played everybody in the north twice and played the south once.
“The travel was harder than what we thought it was going to be,” he continued. “I think the commissioner (Bob Bowlsby) and everybody in the league have done a great job of trying to make it as painless as you can possibly make flying four hours painless. But the whole league is different.”
Huggins pointed out some clear differences between the Big 12 and the Big East - the conference West Virginia was formerly a member of.
“Let’s be honest, officiating in this league compared to the officiating in the Big East was night and day,” he said. “The atmospheres were night and day. You go from a league where you play maybe half of your games in NBA arenas that are downtown, away from campus, and you don’t have the student involvement that you have in the Big 12. I think the atmospheres in the Big 12 are far tougher to play in than they are in the leagues where you don’t have to play on campus.
“So there was, I think, a great deal of adjustment for not just the coaches, but I think the players as well.”
Mountaineer teams in the past typically had great fan support whenever they went on the road to play in the Big East. Because of the great distances the team is traveling in the Big 12 now, that has clearly changed a little bit.
“Before in the Big East, because we were an hour flight away, and four- or five-hour drive and because we had so many alumni up and down the East Coast everywhere we went, we had a tremendous following,” Huggins explained. “In this league, it’s really hard and we don’t have the alumni base that we have in the East.”
West Virginia has two more weeks of preseason prep work before facing Fairmont State in its only preseason game on Nov. 4 at the Coliseum.
The Mountaineers open the regular season four days later against Mount St. Mary’s at the Coliseum on Nov. 8.
The early part of the season will also feature games against Duquesne, Virginia Tech, Georgia Southern and Presbyterian before the Mountaineers travel to Cancun, Mexico to play two games there in the Cancun Challenge.
West Virginia opens Big 12 play on the road at TCU and Texas Tech on Jan. 4-6.