Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

ANALYSIS: A new era forced Bob Huggins’ hand in building his roster, which created obstacles rather than adjustments

MORGANTOWN — Bob Huggins addressed the makeup of his WVU men’s basketball roster Saturday using a pronoun that really needed no indication of who he meant.

“I think what people don’t understand is we’ve got such a mix of guys, which that’s the position they put us in,” Huggins said following the Mountaineers’ 77-76 road loss against Oklahoma.

“They,” as in the NCAA and the collective rules created by the organization that created one-time transfer waivers, the transfer portal and the creation of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), which allows college athletes to profit off themselves.

“Everybody is going portal and NIL and all of that stuff,” Huggins continued. “It’s really kind of messed up our game. Quite frankly, I didn’t totally understand how to deal with it, but I think we came out of it O.K.”

It was just a few days earlier when Huggins spoke of the old ways of building a program, the way he had spent the majority of his 41 years as a college head coach.

“We used to bring in freshmen and groom freshmen and then you had seniors and juniors,” Huggins said. “Your seniors would leave and then your juniors became your guys and the freshmen moved up. There was some sense of loyalty. There was some sense of togetherness.”

Since 2020, WVU has seen eight players enter the portal and eight players signed out of the portal, which includes Emmitt Matthews Jr., who transferred to Washington and then transferred back for this season, as well as Manhattan transfer Jose Perez, who won’t be eligible until next season.

That influx of holes in the roster opened doors for a number of possibilities and Huggins filled them with older players out of the portal, along with five freshmen in the 2021 recruiting class and two freshmen and three junior-college recruits from the 2022 class.

In all fairness, members of the NCAA didn’t hold a gun to Huggins’ head and force him to recruit that way, but the temptation is also hard to ignore to replace departing experienced players with incoming ones.

When that decision is made, sure, it can look good on paper, but it can also throw a monkey wrench into the development process of the overall roster.

“We have two freshmen (Josiah Davis and Josiah Harris), who I would really like to play, because they are both great kids and are going to be really good players,” Huggins said. “I can’t play them. I can’t play them and win. I’ve got Seth (Wilson) and Kobe (Johnson) and those guys, who are getting better and better.”

Following the loss to Kansas, Huggins made this statement on sophomore forward James Okonkwo:

“I promise you, he’s going to play a whole lot more.”

Okonkwo has played a total of six minutes in the two games since and did not see action against Oklahoma.

It’s a rock and a hard place the Mountaineers (10-7, 0-5 Big 12) now find themselves in.

Going with a sudden youth movement isn’t going to help WVU offensively or defensively. Staying with the status quo, though, hasn’t exactly worked out since Big 12 play began.

If there is to be the sort of loyalty and togetherness in the WVU program that Huggins spoke of, it could be a year away, when guys like Tre Mitchell, Joe Toussaint and Jimmy Bell Jr. have gone through a full year, Perez becomes eligible, as well as Okonkwo, Wilson and Johnson being another year older.

Of course, that would mean one big “if,” as in if that group decides to stick together with no one transferring or deciding to pursue a professional career.

Huggins has other ideas, though, and couldn’t care less about next season at this point.

“I think for all the doubters out there, we’re going to be a good team,” Huggins said. “Hopefully our fans will come out and continue to support us and be a part of this turnaround that we’re going to have.”

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