Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Given the same choice, Josh Eilert would still go through challenging season again

MORGANTOWN — It could be chalked up as another lesson in being careful what you wish for, not that Josh Eilert sees it that way.

He was given the keys to the Coliseum and told by WVU athletic director Wren Baker to go be a head coach — have fun with it.

To boot, Eilert was given a $1.5 million salary to be the WVU men’s basketball coach.

In that same situation, the guess from here is that 98% of the people living in this state would have jumped at that opportunity, no questions asked.

“The huge waves have started to settle,” Eilert said during a Zoom call Thursday, as the Mountaineers (8-14, 3-6 Big 12) prepared to hit the road to face Texas on Saturday.

Those huge waves you know about, but none of us, including Eilert, could have predicted what was swarming around out there last July.

What was a dream opportunity quickly turned into a bad situation.

RaeQuan Battle was never cleared by the NCAA. Technically he still hasn’t, but a federal court granted him the right to play after the season was nine games old.

The starting point guard Kerr Kriisa was suspended nine games by the NCAA for accepting illegal benefits.

Jesse Edwards fractured his right wrist and missed a month. Akok Akok collapsed to the floor in an exhibition game and missed the first part of the season.

And so we hit a moment of brutal honesty, which is to say a veteran coach may have been able to navigate this situation better and come out with two or three more victories.

No one, not Bob Huggins or Roy Williams or Jay Wright or John Beilein, would have had this WVU team in contention under the circumstances the way they happened.

In a perfect situation, there still would have been growing pains, much of which has taken place the last few games now that the roster is intact.

But even in a perfect situation, the Mountaineers’ path to success was narrow, which is also kind of what we’re seeing right now.

“Certainly we wish it would have played out differently from the jump,” Eilert said. “That wasn’t the case. We made the most of it and now we’re trying to make the most of the last nine, 10 games of the season. We’re trying to make some waves from our standpoint moving forward.”

Moving forward, that is quickly becoming the issue at hand for Baker where it concerns the future of the program.

The “how” in Baker’s next move is likely a settled situation in most people’s minds, meaning he will conduct a search at some point and name a new coach.

It’s the “who” that is critical, because it’s quite possible whomever it is could be walking into a situation just as difficult as the one Eilert inherited.

How many scholarships would have to be filled? We’re setting the over-under at eight and we’re leaning toward the over.

WVU has great basketball tradition, solid facilities and a good footing when it comes to competing in the NIL world of college athletics.

Yet this is also a program heading for a finish somewhere near the bottom of the Big 12.

A year ago, even though WVU made it to the NCAA tournament, the Mountaineers were eighth out of 10 teams.

The season before that, WVU was dead last in the conference.

The year 2021 seems like it was a generation ago now, and that’s the last time WVU has been in contention.

Oh, where have you gone, Deuce McBride?

The Big 12 is only getting better. Arizona joins next season, as does Colorado, Arizona State and Utah.

Take Arizona State out of that equation, and the other three will likely join the Big 12 coming off 20-win seasons. Arizona has the potential to win the national title.

God help us all if Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark wises up and gets Gonzaga as a basketball-only member, a move he should have made a long time ago.

This wouldn’t exactly be the best time to try and rebuild your men’s basketball program and not expect a few more trips to the woodshed in Big 12 play along the way.

And the thought of trying to build a program that’s been on the decline against a league like the Big 12, well, some potential coaches may not want that on their resumé. Hard to blame them.

Eilert didn’t shy away from wanting it on his, which says a lot about who he is as a person and a coach.
Given the same choice, he said he would do it all over again.

“Absolutely,” Eilert said. “It’s going to be a complete challenge in every sense of the word, but that’s where people and individuals come out of it with more growth.

“I didn’t take over a program with a set roster 10 games into the season that was top 10 in the country. We were piecing things together late in the summer and doing everything we could to make sure we could put ourselves in the best position to be competitive.”

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