The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

May 11, 2014

Huggins confident team will survive departures

Bob Huggins knows fans are uneasy. He’s aware that losing nearly 30 points of production with two transfers isn't the best way to turn around a team that's missed two straight NCAA Tournaments after appearing in five straight.

But on Saturday, a day after he announced that Terry Henderson would be joining Eron Harris in transferring away from the West Virginia University basketball program, the Mountaineer coach made it clear during a 50-minute meeting with the media that he’s confident his team will survive the departures.

“We’re going to be fine,” he said. “We are fine.”

While the transfer of the two guards, both of whom finished up their sophomore seasons in March seeing plenty of playing time, were alarming to fans on their own, it's the bigger picture that had WVU supporters asking so many questions Friday night.

Since going to the Final Four in 2010, WVU signed 16 players in the next four recruiting classes. Twelve of them transferred or never played for the Mountaineers.

Huggins, though, said that figure is a little misleading, because it doesn’t include the Class of 2013. All of that class is still with the team, although Huggins indicated junior college transfer Remi Dibo has told assistant coaches he plans on playing professionally in France instead of returning for his senior year.

“We’ve signed 23 guys since the Final Four,” said Huggins. “We haven’t signed 16. The 12 of 16 number is not accurate. It's 12 of 23.

“Three of those guys never suited up. There were two medical (issues) and one guy who had a language problem and didn't pass the test. He never showed up on campus. You start throwing those numbers in, it makes it look a whole lot different than what it actually is.”

More importantly, Huggins said there were many situations beyond his coaching staff's control.

“I don’t mind taking blame for things, but blame me for things I can control,” he said. “Don’t blame me for things I can't control.”

Huggins was also quick to point out that the problem of attrition isn't unique to WVU.

"Forty percent of (men's college basketball players) don't make it to their junior year," he said. "That's been tracked. Thirty-eight percent of those don't transfer to a higher or like conference. We've had one guy who has transferred and gone to a so-called BCS conference. The rest of them have transferred down.

“The reality is that kids are transferring. They're transferring everywhere. I understand that we lose a couple guys that scored some points. Texas Tech lost their second- and third-leading scorer. It’s happening everywhere. I’m not for it. I'm not saying it's OK. What I am saying is that it's not just here. It happens everywhere. It's kind of the times.”

Huggins — himself a transfer in his college days when he left Ohio University to come back to his hometown of Morgantown and play for the Mountaineers —  scoffed at the notion that the number of players leaving is in any way related to the type of player he's recruiting.

“It's absolutely not the kids we're bringing in, because it’s happening everywhere,” he said. “Kids are leaving Ivy League schools. Kids are leaving Duke and the high profile academic schools. It’s not the kind of kids we're bringing in.

“We live in different times. We live in times where if you don't play on one AAU team, you transfer to another. We live in times where kids go all kinds of different places. They go from one high school to the next high school. That's the times that we live in. Is it right? I don't know. But honestly that's not for me to judge."

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Huggins also addressed next year's team, saying the talent coming in is just is good as what's leaving. WVU will add Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon, two big men who were members of the Class of 2013 who had to sit out the 2013-14 season, as well as the three members of the Class of 2014 — guards Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles and Tarik Phillip.

"We have five guys to add to what we had a year ago," said Huggins. "When you look at it that way, it doesn't look so bad. We have five new guys coming in that I think are pretty good.

"What can those guys do? We couldn't rebound the basketball (this past season). They will rebound the basketball. I think we'll go back to being more like we were (during the Final Four run) with Devin Williams, Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon. The teams that win are the ones that get the most easy shots. Second-chance points are easy shots, and I think we'll be able to do that. We'll be bigger. We'll be longer."

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Huggins is under contract through the 2017-18 season, but he promised Saturday he won't stick around if he's not doing the job he was hired to do.

"Nobody loves West Virginia University more than I do," said the 60-year-old coach. "When the time comes that I don't think I can do my job and do the best I can possibly do for this university, I'll quit. I'm not going to hang on. I'm not going to hang on and not do the right thing. I love this university. I love this state.

"I'd venture to say that nobody goes as many places in this state and has more interaction with our people than I do. We can talk about whatever we want to talk about, but this is about West Virginia University.

"The only thing I could tell you is that we're going to do everything we can possibly do."

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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