Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

Josh Eilert, batch of newcomers will make their WVU debuts in exhibition against George Mason

MORGANTOWN — There were no fans, no public address announcer and no bands playing fight songs.

Certainly what Josh Eilert experienced last weekend, as the WVU men’s basketball team went up against Vanderbilt in a closed-door scrimmage, wasn’t exactly what he’ll feel when the Mountaineers host Kansas in January.

Yet it was still his debut of sorts, his first time standing and directing the Mountaineers on the sidelines rather than sitting and watching.

He’s done plenty of that, exactly 16 years’ worth of it at WVU, as Eilert worked his way up the ranks from video coordinator to assistant coach behind Bob Huggins.

That all changed this summer, as Huggins resigned following a DUI arrest in Pittsburgh and Eilert was eventually named the interim head coach for the 2023-24 season.

Which takes us back to that scrimmage. For the first time, it was Eilert calling the shots rather than giving mere suggestions.

“It really felt second nature,” Eilert said. “You play it out in your head, and it’s going to be awkward however you play it. It felt good standing rather than sitting.

“It seems like I see a lot more on what’s going on now since I don’t have a big old coach in front of me and I’m peeking around trying to figure out what just happened.”

A better opportunity at coaching in a game-type atmosphere comes at 7 p.m. Friday, as the Mountaineers will host George Mason in a charity exhibition. All proceeds will go to WVU Medicine Children’s.

“I’m excited about another opportunity to do so,” Eilert said.

As for what exactly Eilert is working with in the Mountaineers, well it sounds like he nearly got a season’s worth of experience in one scrimmage.

“We learned a lot about our team,” Eilert said of the Vanderbilt scrimmage. “There were 23 lead changes, and it went into overtime. We were down two and had a shot to win it.

“I wasn’t real excited how we executed. I didn’t call a timeout when there was about 12 seconds left, I let them play through it. We forced a three, when we probably should have gone downhill and tried to get it to the rim to tie it in overtime.”

As for what this team will look like, WVU guard Seth Wilson simply gave a, “People are just going to have to come out and see.”

There will be differences, of course, between Huggins’ style and Eilert’s.

That begins on the offensive side of the floor, where Eilert’s approach is to create more spacing, more pick-and-rolls with newcomers Kerr Kriisa and Jesse Edwards and likely more shooters camped out in the corners.

“Playing the new system, I feel like it’s going to work,” said Wilson, who averaged 4.2 points per game as a sophomore last season. “We’re really good in it. There are things we can improve on it, like with the spacing. There’s a sense of freedom, a sense of having the ability to make reads. It’s definitely going to be good.”

There are give and takes, though, meaning WVU may not end up as strong in the rebounding and defensive categories as they traditionally did under Huggins.

“What did become an issue is our defensive rebounding,” Eilert said. “We’ve drilled that and drilled that. Hopefully it got through to them that we’ve got to check our man.”

Six scholarship players will play in front of a home WVU crowd for the first time, but none of them will be RaeQuan Battle.

The 6-foot-5 guard had his waiver for immediate eligibility denied by the NCAA earlier this week. WVU is currently appealing that decision, but Battle will not be able to play until he gets clearance.

Still, anticipation remains high for newcomers such as Kriisa and Edwards.

Kriisa led the Pac-12 in assists last season at Arizona, while Edwards averaged a double-double last season at Syracuse.

“It’s definitely different,” playing with Kriisa, Wilson said. “You have to keep your head on a swivel, because you don’t know where he’s going to throw the ball. He might throw it behind his head or throw it behind his back. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Charity exhibition

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: WVU Coliseum
TV: ESPN+ (Online subscription needed)