MORGANTOWN — All was quiet in the WVU men’s basketball office until former standout Tarik Phillip popped his head into Bob Huggins’ lair.
“How you doing, man?” Huggins said, which was quickly followed by a smile and a Huggins bear hug.
It is the weekend of Huggins’ annual fantasy camp, which means all the action is close by.
Former standouts Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff were in and out of the practice facility.
Current players Lamont West and Sagaba Konate were downstairs shooting jump shots on the practice floor with incoming recruit Andrew Gordon.
Huggins is three months removed from his fifth Sweet 16 appearance at WVU, and with the return of Konate and forward Esa Ahmad — who both tested the waters for the 2018 NBA draft — the Mountaineers appear to be headed for some strong preseason positioning.
Huggins is a man marching toward 900 career wins and was a candidate last season for the Naismith Hall of Fame.
If there is anything bothering him, it is hard to tell at this moment.
“I’m very excited about next season, because I believe we’re going to be a lot more versatile,” Huggins said. “We’re going to have so much more depth. We have to have some of the new guys develop for us, but we should be able to do some different things.”
In sitting down with The Dominion Post, Huggins discussed a number of topics including scholarship limits and how the game is or isn’t changing, but we begin with a look at the future of former WVU point guard Jevon Carter, who will likely be selected in the draft, on June 21.
The Dominion Post: What have you heard about Jevon’s draft chances and how do you think he fits in the NBA?
Bob Huggins: He actually pulled his groin a little bit, so he had to stop working out for a little while. I don’t know. I can’t imagine some team not taking him in the first round. It’s a need basis, too, and there are a lot of factors, but I would be a little surprised if he wasn’t taken in the first round.
He’s going to play. He’s going to play 10-12 years, whether he goes 19th overall or whether he goes 39th. I don’t have any doubt that’s he’s going to have a career in the NBA.
TDP: Do you think Carter’s size (he was measured at 6 foot, 1 1/2 inches with shoes on at the NBA Combine) will scare any teams away?
BH: For what they need point guards to do in the NBA, J.C. will be fine. He’s not a 2-guard. He’ll have to stay at point guard.
TDP: Why was Konate’s return to school the right move for him?
BH: It’s all about the situation. I thought Joe (Alexander) should have stayed. Joe needed to learn how to play a little more. It depends on what you want. I asked Joe, “Do you want to get drafted or do you want a career?” He said his goal was to always get drafted.
That was kind of the conversation I had with Sags. A lot of guys get drafted and then spend their career in the G League. Sags didn’t want that. He wants to be in a situation where he’s ready to make a team and have a career.
TDP: Young players have so many people in their ear, can it be a negative thing for a coach to tell a player it would be best to go back to school?
BH: People tell guys that [the coaches] only want the players to come back so they can have a good team, which is part of the problem. I’ve lost bunches of guys who left early and it hardly affected us the next year. Part of that is from guys you bring in. They have to be able to play. The thing with Sags is, he wanted to see where he was. His deal was, if he wasn’t going to be a first-round pick, he wasn’t going to leave.
TDP: You’re starting to see less room for big and physical players in the NBA, as teams go to more guards and 3-point shooters. Villanova won the national championship last season with a team that played five guys who could all shoot 3-pointers. Is the game going away from needing big and physical guys?
BH: I don’t think there is any doubt that’s what is going on at the NBA level. If not, Kevin Jones would be playing in the NBA right now. Devin Williams would be in the NBA right now. I mean, what’s the difference between Devin Williams and Charles Oakley or Devin Williams and Danny Fortson?
The style of play has changed. In college, I think Villanova did it last year out of necessity. Kentucky still plays big. Kansas still plays big. Arizona plays big. Over the last whatever years, those have probably been three of the top five teams in the country. They play with a legitimate center and a power forward.
TDP: Does any of that change in the years to come?
BH: I don’t know. I don’t understand why we are so quick to try and adapt to a European style when every time [a United States team] plays them, we beat their ass. I can understand Golden State, but to say the whole league is going to do that, I don’t get that.
TDP: Obviously, replacing Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. at the guard positions will be a task. Your incoming recruiting class includes three guards (Jordan McCabe, Trey Doomes and Jermaine Haley) with James “Beetle” Bolden, Brandon Knapper and Chase Harler all returning. What kind of plan do you have for so many guards?
BH: I think Beetle is going to be able to step in and play. I think Chase is going to be able to step in and play. Are they going to be J.C. and Dax? No, but J.C. and Dax needed time to develop, too. I think two of our freshmen can come in and play the point. We need to find a point guard. We’ve got guys who can make shots. If you think back to when we had Juwan (Staten), Gary (Browne), Tarik, Jaysean (Paige), J.C. and Dax, we didn’t have a problem playing all of them. We could potentially do the same thing.
TDP: You mentioned a number of times last season that you believe that men’s basketball should have 15 scholarship players like women’s basketball. Why would having two more players make a difference?
BH: I’ve been here 11 years, when have we not had guys hurt or sick or suspended? There’s been some teams (across the country) that have had five or six guys suspended for academics. And having more scholarships isn’t so much about the games, it’s more about getting ready for each game. We’re at 13 (scholarships) right now. You get a couple of guys hurt or suspended, now you’re down to 11. A few more get hurt, now you don’t have enough to practice (5-on-5).
TDP: Transfer numbers around the nation are already the highest they’ve ever been. Wouldn’t adding two more scholarship players just add more potential transfers?
BH: Aren’t we in the age of instant gratification? Players are going to leave. Coaches are going to leave. Everybody wants to be the boss in two minutes and if not here, they’ll go someplace else. I don’t see how adding two more scholarships really changes any of that.
TDP: One final thing, you also had Ahmad return for his senior season. He obviously went through a difficult stretch last season having to sit out the first 16 games. Do you see anything different in him a year later?
BH: Esa applied (for the NBA draft) and he had a couple of workouts scheduled. He came in one day and said, “Coach, I’ve been thinking about this and I’m just not ready.” I think that was a very mature thing for him to do. He’s grown up a bunch. Last year was hard for him. People kept asking me if it affected our team. I don’t think it affected our team one way or the other, but it affected him. Not just sitting out, but then he comes back and feels like he took someone’s spot and all of that. Our guys were great, they never cared about any of that, but I think it played on Esa’s mind.