MORGANTOWN — Jimmy Bell Jr. wasn’t even on the WVU men’s basketball roster a year ago, yet he’s well aware of the sidebar that goes along with Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game against Baylor inside the Coliseum.
The return of Baylor forward Jalen Bridges to Morgantown — where he spent three seasons with the Mountaineers — will certainly mean different things to those in attendance.
From a player’s point of view, Bell was asked what it would mean to him if WVU (10-5, 0-3 Big 12) were to play against St. Louis — where he began his college career — this season.
“There would be a lot of emotions, but not so much negative,” Bell said. “They’re still my guys and I still talk to them every now and then. It’s a chance to go play your old friends and maybe get a win against them.
“I’m pretty sure Jalen is thinking the same thing. It’s still a game, but if it’s against a school you just came from, you definitely want to get the win.”
In his first season at Baylor (10-5, 0-3), Bridges is the fourth-leading scorer on the team at 8.9 points per game. He’s shooting 48% from the floor, but is only 11 of 48 (23%) from 3-point range.
The 3-point shot is the one stat that has taken a hit with Bridges’ move to Waco, Texas, while the rest of his numbers are comparable to what he did at WVU last season.
It’s with that in mind, WVU head coach Bob Huggins was asked about scouting a player who was on his roster last season.
“Honestly, I haven’t paid that much attention,” Huggins said. “I’ve watched him here of late, because we’re getting ready to play them.”
Rather, it’s Baylor’s three-guard look of L.J. Cryer, Keyonte George and Adam Flagler that drew more of Huggins’ attention.
“They have for as long as I can remember relied on their guards,” Huggins continued. “Their guards are good and their guards take a vast majority of their shots. So, my focus, I’m trying to figure out how to slow those guards down.”
Huggins added Bridges’ return to West Virginia — he’s a former Fairmont Senior standout — would only be a big deal if the media made it into one.
“You do what you do. I’m past the point in time in my life where I care,” Huggins said. “I’m past the point in time in my life where I worry about it. Why would I? I’ve got enough on my hands here trying to get these guys to win some games. I’m not going to worry about someone else.”
WVU point guard Kedrian Johnson has returned to running drills in practice, but Huggins still considered him day-to-day.
Johnson missed last Saturday’s loss against Kansas with a concussion, and according to WVU’s concussion protocol, returning to practice for light training is the third of four steps he must reach before being cleared to play.
The fourth step is compete in a full practice and remain symptom free for a 24-hour period before a WVU athlete can be cleared to compete in a game.
“He went a little bit (Tuesday), but not very much,” Huggins said. “He went a little bit and we’ll see what he does (Wednesday).”
If Johnson is able to get through a full practice on Wednesday, it’s likely he could be back in the lineup against Baylor.
Bell, too, said he would be back in the Mountaineers’ lineup, after suffering a chest injury against Kansas.
“I think it happened when I dove on a ball. I kind of lost my wind a little bit,” said Bell, who is WVU’s top rebounder on the season. “I’m doing fine. I was having a hard time breathing at the time. I tried to get back in, but it was too hard for me at the time.”
What if Jose Perez gets cleared to play?
According to published reports, the NCAA Committee for Legislative Relief is expected to rule on WVU guard Jose Perez’s immediate eligibility by Wednesday.
On the record, Huggins has never given a date when the school expects to hear from the board, and he didn’t sound all that positive on Tuesday.
“First of all, I would be totally shocked if that happened in that it’s taken them as long as it’s taken them,” he said.
The NCAA denied Perez’s waiver for immediate eligibility on Dec. 16, but did clear him to practice with the team.
WVU then appealed that decision to the legislative relief board, whose ruling is final.
If the board ruled in Perez’s favor, Huggins was asked if the 6-foot-5 guard could see minutes against the Bears?
“I don’t know what the answer to that question is,” Huggins replied. “He hasn’t been in a scrimmage. He hasn’t played defense against the offense. He’s played offense against the defense.”
Huggins said Perez has been mostly used on the scout team in practice, serving as the opponent’s top player.
But, he hasn’t been involved in game plans and Huggins said Perez probably doesn’t know all of WVU’s plays yet.
“That’s not his fault, either,” Huggins said.
BAYLOR at WVU
WHEN: 7 p.m., Wednesday
WHERE: WVU Coliseum
TV: ESPN+ (Online subscription needed)
RADIO: 100.9 JACK-FM