Justin Jackson, Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

Column: Huggins’ focus is recruiting freshmen that can buy into his style

MORGANTOWN — An absolute first happened for Bob Huggins during his tenure at West Virginia on Friday.

The veteran coach was interviewed — well, sort of anyway — by one of his own players.

In the middle of a chat with local reporters prior to the Mountaineers’ practice, freshman Jordan McCabe sort of poked his head into the scrum, prompting Huggins to begin a little back-and-forth.

“Jordan McCabe absolutely [stinks],” Huggins began with a smile looking right at his young point guard. “He can’t make a pass, dribbles the ball off his foot and can’t make a free throw. Other than that, I like him.”

McCabe didn’t hesitate, “That’s a perfect segue, I have one question: Are you worried at all about the incoming freshman class giving you hair loss at all?”

Huggins points to the top of his forehead, “You see that?”

“No, it looks great right now,” McCabe responds.

“No, it’s going this way,” Huggins said, while pointing from the front of his forehead to the middle. “You have a lot to do with that.”

It is a great example of the type of personality McCabe possesses.

There is also a lot of truth in the fact that at West Virginia — just like it is at about 350 other Division I schools — freshmen can make coaches want to pull their hair out.

As much potential as there may be in this freshman class of McCabe, Emmitt Matthews Jr., Trey Doomes, Brandon Knapper and Derek Culver, they are far from being a polished product.

And if you have to have some news on Culver, here it is: The suspended forward was spotted working out in the WVU weight room at the practice facility Friday, while the team practiced in the Coliseum. So, it appears he is still very much in school and still part of the program, despite whatever rumor or Internet message board you want to give credence to.

Back to the point, Huggins believes there is potential in this class, just like there was potential in Jevon Carter, Kevin Jones or Nathan Adrian.

Now, all three of those guys turned out to have pretty good collegiate careers — Jones and Carter developed into consensus All-Americans — but all three were role players who had a lot of developing left to do as freshmen.

Sagaba Konate could be a NBA draft pick someday. But, as a freshman: “He called timeout in open gym,” Huggins said, not kidding one bit. “He did this [crossing his wrists above his head], the European timeout thing.”

Now, it is very easy for us, the fans, to see the old-as-the-game-itself advantages in bringing freshmen along slowly and letting them develop and mature and blah, blah, blah.

And every bit of that is true.

On the flip side, we’re not a 19-year old kid who was a high school star in his own right and traveled the country on the AAU circuit and who can turn on their TV on any given night and watch Kentucky or Duke beat the crap out of mostly everyone else with players no older than the 19-year olds we’re talking about right now at West Virginia.

“The media is fond of putting a [recruiting] star behind somebody,” Huggins said. “And so you’re talking about five-star guys or one-and-dones and we got four-and-dones.”

Totally understand that, but truth is, players today don’t want to hear it. They fear the word “redshirt” like it was some type of death sentence.

Getting the majority of them to buy into patience and development is as foreign as a Speedo is to an Eskimo.

“Everybody thinks they are better than what they are, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Huggins said. “We got guys that we saw something in that we liked. The majority of these guys weren’t recruited heavily.”

That obviously changes a lot next season, when Oscar Tshiebwe and his five-star credentials first walks on campus, but Huggins admitted that is the exception.

Would he love to bring in more of those guys? Absolutely.

In reality, could he go out and get two or three of those players each year? Probably not without showing up on the FBI’s interest list on college corruption.

“We recruited a kid from Columbus, whose dad played at Walsh,” Huggins began a story. “He didn’t play for me, but he played at Walsh. The kid was a 7-footer and was pretty good. We thought we had a chance to get him, because of the family connection. His mom was from Canton [Ohio]. She kind of grew up where I grew up.

North Carolina head coach, “Roy Williams walks in and in one day, one day, gets the kid to go visit and that same weekend he commits to North Carolina. We can’t do that here. Ours really has to be about relationships and about them believing that this is the right place for them.”

In return for signing those kinds of kids, Huggins has learned to exercise his own patience, even if the rest of us sometimes don’t.

“It’s very difficult,” to build a four-year player, Huggins said. “It’s almost like you don’t want them to get too good, because then they can transfer or enter the NBA Draft.”