MORGANTOWN, W. Va. The West Virginia Mountaineers men’s basketball team has a busy schedule ahead in the month of August. Coach Bob Huggins met with the media this afternoon at the WVU Practice Facility to preview the next few weeks. Prior to their departure, the Mountaineers will have 10 practices, the first of which beginning today, to prepare for a three-game stretch while overseas. Included on their game schedule is: the IBA Elite, the Atlantis All-Stars, and the Patron Regulators.
“Obviously, I think the practices are great for our incoming guys,” Huggins said while addressing the new rule changes made during the off-season. “We’ve got three of the four of them here and it gives us an opportunity to work on playing with the 30-second shot clock and we’re probably gonna have to adapt like everybody else. You know, figure out some quick hitters and some ball-screen action, a little more than we have been doing, anyways, to deal with the rule changes,” said Huggins.
Rule changes include an emphasis on the pace of play (the shot clock reduction), an expansion of the restricted area arc from three feet to four feet, and a new rule that would allow officials to penalize players for faking fouls, per NCAA.com.
Huggins also addressed the status of junior forwards Nathan Adrian and Brandon Watkins, both of which ended last season with intolerable injuries.
“No, he won’t play,” Huggins said when asked if Adrian will be on the floor for the Mountaineers in the Bahamas. “Obviously, Brandon (Watkins) won’t play either. I think Nate’s got four or five more weeks before he’ll be full-go. They’re both gonna go, but they obviously won’t play. But it’s good because it gives some of our younger guys an opportunity to play.”
As for Watkins, the likelihood that he will be able to play for the Mountaineers during the regular season is also a tossup. In May, Watkins underwent knee surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“I don’t have any idea, that’s up to the medical people,” Huggins said. “I mean, rule of thumb is that he probably would not. I would guess that he would probably redshirt, but I don’t know that.”
With the loss of two prominent guards in Juwan Staten and Gary Browne, Huggins next challenge is to choose the right set of hands to run point for the Mountaineers.
“I was never looking at Dax (Daxter Miles),” Huggins said jokingly when asked if Miles was a potential replacement at the point position. “We’d have a mutiny, nobody else would ever get the ball,” he laughed, while also stating that Tarik Phillip and Jevon Carter both have potential to be the next true point guard for his squad.
Esa Ahmad, perhaps West Virginia’s most prized newcomer, has enrolled early at WVU and will begin classes today, June 20, as part of a three-week summer session that will allow him to begin practice immediately. The anticipation around Ahmad has grown increasingly as the season draws nearer.
“On a high school level, he pretty much did everything. He can handle the ball, he passes the ball, he’s got an understanding of where the ball is supposed to go and I think he’s got a really good vision,” Huggins said. “It’s a transition, it’s a faster game, and it’s a more physical game and it’ll take him a while to adjust,” he added.
It’s no surprise that questions about the disappointing Sweet 16 finish at the end of the 2014-15 season were asked multiple times throughout the press conference. It’s also no surprise that the majority of those questions revolved around then-freshman Daxter Miles, who made a few questionable statements that provoked a media wildfire prior to West Virginia’s matchup with the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats.
“I think with the way the question was posed, what’s he supposed to say, ‘We’re scared to death’?” Huggins said. “They have a tendency sometimes when they need a story to ask the question in a way that creates a story. When you got a 19-year old kid who hasn’t been through all that, they have a tendency to tell the truth and sometimes you’re better off skirting the issue.”
As for the rest of his team, Huggins says they’ve moved along particularly well after the Sweet 16 beatdown from Kentucky in March.
“They’ve been pretty good,” he said. “The season, for them, seems to get long. I wanted to give them a break and get them out of here. Honestly the truth is, after they’re home for a while, they appreciate being here. So in the back of my mind, I thought it wouldn’t hurt for them to appreciate what they have here. Sometimes I think a little dose of reality and appreciation for what you have is in order.”
Huggins ended his press conference by discussing the rule changes one more time. He compared the NCAA to the NBA, as well as the European league, and made a point to try understanding where the NCAA and the college game is heading with the rule changes.
“I don’t know why you try to fix things that aren’t broken,” he said. “We’ve gotten away from advantage/disadvantage, which is how the games been called since I’ve been in coaching. I think what would be a great idea is to get all the guys who coached in college and in the NBA and ask them which is a better game,” Huggins concluded.
The Mountaineers will leave Morgantown for the Bahamas on August 9. Game one vs. IBA Elite will take place August 10 at 7pm. The second game vs. the Atlantis All-Stars will tip August 12 at 7pm. Lastly, the third game vs. the Patron Regulators is set for August 13 at 7pm. The Mountaineers will return to Morgantown on August 15.