The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

May 21, 2014

Huggins believes he has team to compete in Big 12

Bob Huggins signed autographs, shook hands, held babies and told jokes Wednesday during the WVU Coaches Caravan stop at Calacino’s in Beckley. But it seemed the topic of discussion, whether from a 70-year-old lady who had watched West Virginia University basketball for 50 years or a 12-year-old youngster who was just getting into the game and watching the WVU coach for the first time, was always the same.

Transfers.

Even football coach Dana Holgorsen got in on the action, having a little fun with his colleague, who recently lost two of his top scorers from the 2013-14 squad when guards Eron Harris and Terry Henderson decided to leave the program.

“I love transfers,” said Holgorsen when a question from the audience was presented to Huggins about the players leaving the program. “Charles Sims (who transferred from Houston to WVU for his senior season in 2013 and ended up rushing for more than 1,000 yards) was pretty good. I don’t know about sophomore transfers, but I love fifth-year transfers.”

Huggins downplayed the impact of losing players, pointing out statistics that more than 500 men’s basketball players across the country have transferred this offseason. More than 60 percent of college basketball players, he said, transfer before their junior year and more than 70 percent of WVU’s general student population transfers after their sophomore year.

The problem, he said, isn’t unique to WVU.

“People talk about me being too tough, but the two guys that transferred shot every ball,” he said. “And nobody said a thing to them.”

Huggins said, in fact, he’s been easier on his players than in the past, something he promised to change.

“I’m going to go back to being me,” he said. “Maybe I can help increase their vocabulary a little.”

Huggins believes as much as the negative impact of transfers has been discussed, his team has also been helped by transfers, especially junior college transfer Jaysean Paige, who signed a letter of intent with the Mountaineers on Tuesday.

“Jaysean shot 44 percent from 3 (at Moberly Area Community College),” said Huggins. “He shoots it pretty well, and he can bounce it. Our league is about bouncing it in the lane and getting to the foul line. When we’ve played well, we’ve sucked the defense in to get step-in 3s.

“In all honesty, last year we had one guy who could dribble,” he continued. “So (first-team All-Big 12 point guard Juwan Staten) had the ball the whole time. It’s not really fair to him. With Jayean and the true freshmen (Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles), who can both bounce it, I think we’ll be better.”

Huggins also believes the Mountaineers will be strong on the inside, where Devin Williams, Brandon Watkins and Nate Adrian return and Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon, who sat out this past season, are added to the mix.

“We’re going to be worlds better,” he said. “Jonathan Holton can play. He’s unorthodox, but he can play. He’ll be top two or three (in the league) at his position. We’ve got the best player in the Big 12 in Juwan Staten, and Elijah is Devin Williams’, who led the league in double-doubles (as a freshman last season), carbon copy. So I think we’re good.”

The wild card, Huggins said, is Shady Spring’s own Chase Connor, a walk-on who will be a sophomore on next season’s team.

“Chase is doing great; he really is,” said the Mountaineer coach. “Hopefully we can get Chase a little more up to speed defensively, because Chase can make shots. When people play zone, he can make big shots. I like Chase a lot.”

Whether the departures of Harris and Henderson create a bigger opportunity for Connor, Huggins said is up to the player.

“It is what you make of it,” he said. “Chase has been great. I think when he came in he was a little bit timid, but as it goes on, he’s not as timid. He’s just got to say, ‘This is my job,’ and not take a back seat.”

The biggest difference, Huggins said, will be on the defensive end, where he hopes to model his group after what he’s seen from women’s coach Mike Carey, who was also at Wednesday’s event.

“I really loved watching his team play,” said Huggins. “They guarded. People couldn’t score.

“That’s what we used to do, and we will do it again.”

— E-mail: chuffman

@register-herald.com

and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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