Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

TO THE POINT: Huggins is practicing patience with West Virginia’s three point guards

MORGANTOWN — A year ago at this time, the point guard position was hardly a concern for WVU head coach Bob Huggins.

For good reason, too. The Mountaineers had a future NBA player in Deuce McBride in the starting lineup and his backup was Jordan McCabe, who had started 44 games at WVU.

A year later, Huggins has a point guard in Malik Curry who has started 52 games, but those came at Old Dominion. Kedrian Johnson played in 27 games with the Mountaineers last season, but averaged just seven minutes per game.

The third entry is freshman Kobe Johnson, a confident and talented young man from Ohio who has turned a lot of heads early, but he is still just a freshman.

“You have to try and convince yourself to be more patient, which historically has not been one of my strengths,” Huggins said. “I think patience, but you also have to ingrain in them how important it is.”

The importance for the Mountaineers is finding a point guard to run alongside three experienced returners from a team that won 19 games and played in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season.

“It’s a lot more responsibility than what I think most people understand,” Huggins said. “You just don’t have to know what you’re supposed to do, you have to know what everyone else is supposed to do and get everybody else to where they’re supposed to start.”

As to how the three will be rotated or who starts and finishes games, Huggins hasn’t tipped his hand, but Friday’s 7 p.m. exhibition game against Akron could be a view inside the coach’s thinking.

Tickets are priced at either $10 or $15, with the proceeds of the exhibition going to the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Research Endowment Fund.

Each of the three have their own stories as to how they got to this point.

Curry is a fifth-year transfer playing out his final season of college eligibility. Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic and the eligibility rule changes that followed, the Wilmington, Del. native would likely be playing professionally oversees this season.

“I had a good career at Old Dominion, but given the extra year, I wanted to come back to school at the highest level,” said Curry, who averaged 15.7 points per game last season. “I just wanted to see how that would go for me.”

Johnson had a defining moment last January against Oklahoma State, when he came off the bench to score nine points and added five assists in an 87-84 comeback victory.

He played 25 minutes in that game, but never played more than 17 the rest of the season. In the NCAA tournament, Johnson played just one minute each in the games against Morehead State and Syracuse.

His role is expected to change drastically this season.

“Actually watching and playing are two different things,” Johnson said. “I see the bigger picture now. The film doesn’t lie. I could see my mistakes. At the end of the day, it’s about trusting the work you put in.”

Kobe Johnson is the young gun, named after Hall-of-Famer Kobe Bryant.

“My mom was a big fan of Kobe,” he said.

To that end, so was he, growing up idolizing the former Los Angeles Lakers star. Coming up through the basketball ranks as a kid named Kobe, he admits, wasn’t always easy.

“When I was younger, I used to wear No. 8 and No. 24,” Kobe said of using the same numbers as Bryant. “Holding that name is kind of strong, so you’re trying to be like Kobe.”

In the Gold-Blue Debut team scrimmage earlier this month, Kobe was one of the standouts with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor.

“Coming in, I wanted to just try and fit in, but I have worked hard and I know I’ve prepared for this,” he said. “I didn’t know I had 16. I knew I had hit a few shots, but it did surprise me a little bit.”

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