By Dave Morrison
West Virginia forward Kevin Jones did a little exploration in the offseason, initially announcing that he would turn professional, prior to the NBA Draft.
He didn’t hire an agent, and when he didn’t receive positive feedback, he withdrew his name and returned for his senior season.
And coach Bob Huggins is happy about that.
Jones is one of four Mountaineers returning after receiving quality minutes last season.
The others are starters Deniz Kilicli, Darryl “Truck” Bryant and Kevin Noreen. And Noreen was lost to an injury early in the year after playing in seven games and averaging 2.6 points and 1.7 rebounds.
Jones averaged 13.1 points — second behind graduated Casey Mitchell — and a team-best 7.5 rebounds last season. He is among 50 players listed on the Wooden Award Preseason Watch List. The Wooden Award is given to college basketball’s best player.
The 6-foot-8, 260-pound Mount Vernon, N.Y., product will be the Mountaineers’ leader this year.
“There is no doubt about that,” coach Bob Huggins said. “He just has to continue to do what KJ does, and that is making open shots and rebound the ball. He is our best defender. He is a three-man that can guard the five. He has to continue to do what he does. He can conceivably be in the top 10 in scoring and top 15 in rebounding (at WVU). He could be the best offensive rebounder here.”
Jones has already had a stellar career. He has scored 1,165 career points and has 688 rebounds.
Only Jerry West and White Sulphur Springs native Warren Baker have scored at least 1,500 points and grabbed 1,000 rebounds at WVU.
“That is pretty good, especially at a place like this that has had some good guys play here,” Huggins said. “That is a heck of a career.”
Kilicli, a 6-9, 270-pound native of Turkey, who prepped at Mountain State Academy in Beckley, averaged 6.6 points and four rebounds per game last season.
“He is a lot better,” Huggins said. “He is in so much better physical condition. His skill level is better. Deniz just needs to continue to buy in. He needs to continue that process.”
Kilicli has to up his rebounding total for the Mountaineers to have success, Huggins said.
“Jerry West’s statue (outside the WVU Coliseum) had as many rebounds as him,” Huggins joked. “We need him to go to that next level. He needs to pull down seven rebounds a game.”
Bryant, a 6-2 native of the Bronx, has predominately been a point guard at WVU. That may change if freshman Jabarie Hinds blossoms.
“We don’t really have positions, but I would like him to have the ball less,” Huggins said. “I would like to him to be a receiver. I would rather him be a catcher than a pitcher. He is our best perimeter shooter. He will be our most consistent perimeter shooter. He was miserable from the field to start Big East (play). He was shooting around 19 percent, somewhere in there. When we got him off the ball and gave it to Joe (Mazzulla) more, he started to make his shots. He just has less things to worry and think about.”
Noreen is a 6-10 native of Minneapolis, Minn.
WVU starts the season tonight at Mountaineer Madness at the WVU Coliseum.
The event starts at 7:30 p.m. and is free.
Highlights include men’s and women’s team introductions, speeches from the coaches, team scrimmages and a slam dunk competition. Other events include an autograph session, T-shirt giveaways, highlight videos and performances from the Mountaineer pep band, cheerleaders and dance team. Both teams will raise their NCAA banners from last season.
WVU opens the season with an exhibition game Friday, Nov. 4, against Northern Kentucky at 7:30 p.m.
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