The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

October 30, 2011

Mountaineers face a challenge with 7 freshmen

MORGANTOWN — Some of Bob Huggins’ veteran players have been trying to make his job easier in what’s shaping up to be a challenging season at West Virginia.

Since taking over in 2007 at his alma mater, Huggins’ starting rotations have been filled with accomplished scorers and playmakers.

This season, Kevin Jones, Deniz Kilicli and Truck Bryant are going to have to be coaches on the floor to seven freshmen in preseason practices.

“When you have a young team, there is just bad stuff going on everywhere and you can’t correct it all at one time,” Huggins said. “It is just kind of difficult right now.”

To help ease the transition, West Virginia went on an exhibition tour of Italy in August. Huggins said his team is making progress following the overseas trip.

“I think they have familiarity with some of the things we want them to do,” he said. “They are not very good at it though. At least they are familiar with it.”

Among the newcomers left behind on the trip was freshman Jabarie Hinds, who wasn’t cleared to play by the NCAA until the team had already left for Italy. Hinds is expected to help take over point-guard duties from Bryant, who’ll get more time at shooting guard. Hinds attended the same high school in Mount Vernon, N.Y., as Jones.

Huggins said he wants Bryant to handle the ball less. Bryant made just 33 percent of his field goal tries last season, the lowest percentage among players who started.

“He will be our most consistent perimeter shooter,” Huggins said. “He just has less things to worry and think about it. He and KJ still have to get people where they need to be. He is going to be a more productive force offensively without having all the responsibilities of a point guard.”

Bryant was third in scoring last season at 11 points per game. Kilicli, who started 12 games, averaged 6.6 points and four rebounds.

Amid the talk of West Virginia’s possible move to the Big 12, Big East coaches have picked the Mountaineers to finish seventh. In a strong league that usually means an NCAA tournament berth.

West Virginia went 22-12 and beat Clemson before losing to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament last season, a year after the Mountaineers reached the Final Four.

Despite all the newcomers, Jones expects the same result this season.

“I know for a fact that we’re going to be at the tournament,” he said. “And if coach Huggins has anything to say about it, we’re definitely going to be there. But it’s going to be a lot of hard work.”

Jones was second on the team as a junior with 13.1 points per game, averaged a team-leading 7.5 rebounds and was an honorable mention all-Big East selection.

West Virginia opens the regular season Nov. 11 against Oral Roberts

In addition to six incoming recruits, redshirt freshman Kevin Noreen is back after missing most of last season with a knee injury and being granted a medical hardship waiver. He’s expected to contribute at power forward.

There is no returning supporting cast because last year’s freshman class was decimated by injury, illness and defection, backup guard Dalton Pepper transferred to Temple and four seniors graduated, including leading scorer Casey Mitchell.

The roster includes LaSalle transfer Aaric Murray and Dayton transfer Juwan Staten. They’ll sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. Junior-college transfer Dominique Rutledge was suspended indefinitely by Huggins earlier this month for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

Among the freshmen, Jones expects 6-foot-11 Pat Forsythe to be an instant contributor in the front court. Point guard Gary Browne and forwards Keaton Miles and Tommie McCune also could see significant playing time early in the season.

“I think it should be a pretty new and exciting year and they bring a lot of energy to practice and a lot of competitiveness,” Jones said. “So as long as that carries on to the court and in the games, we should be fine.”

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