MORGANTOWN, W.VA. Bob Huggins and a select few players were available to speak with the media Tuesday afternoon at the WVU Basketball Practice Facility. Among those were two of Press Virginia’s returning guards Tarik Phillip and Jaysean Paige.
Phillip, a junior, and Paige, a senior, are both eager to return to the floor as intricate parts of Huggins’ guard rotation that happened to be one of the best in the country last season.
Both guards have something special in common; their home state. Phillip and Paige are both originally from New York, a place that has always been significant to the Mountaineer basketball program. Madison Square Garden, one of the most iconic basketball venues in the world, has often been the ultimate stage for Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers over the last five seasons as it plays host to the coveted Big East Championship where West Virginia claimed the 2010 Big East conference title.
Last season, the Mountaineers played in the Gotham Classic against a stealthy N.C. State team. In 2016, West Virginia heads back to The Garden where they will face a tough Virginia Cavaliers team in the Jimmy V Classic. Playing at The Garden in front of their home crowd is something both Phillip and Paige look forward to experiencing again.
“You know, it’s playing in front of the home crowd and for Jaysean (Paige), Jaysean is a senior so senior year playing in front of his home crowd is gonna be exciting. It’ll be a good one and it’s the Jimmy V Classic so it should be a pretty good crowd,” said Phillip.
“I’m excited. It was a good welcome home game last year. We got a win and I played good in front of my family and friends and it was a good experience the first time playing there, so I’m looking forward to that,” Paige added.
Bob Huggins continuously deems Tarik Phillip as the most improved player on his squad. He has also noted that Phillip has the potential to take over the point guard role. According to Phillip, he’s ready to play at any position wherever he may be needed.
“I feel like I can be at any position one through three to be honest with you because I’m able to defend in all those different positions,” Phillip said.
“I just wanna win to be honest with you. I don’t like to lose but I just wanna play as much as I can and that’s up to be, but winning is the main thing,” he added.
As for the trademarked “Press Virginia”, Phillip told media members that the Mountaineers newest members are picking up perhaps the most difficult press to break in all of college basketball.
“In practice, we’re pressing each other so we kind of know each other’s tendencies and things like that so it’s that much harder to press the team but we’ve got some conditioning coming up when we come back from the Bahamas’ that’s really rigorous. It’s in the morning time so it does a great job at keeping us in shape,” said Phillip.
Jaysean Paige finished last season averaging almost six PPG and was one of Huggins’ shooting weapons coming in off the bench. With Division I experience now under his belt, Paige believes this team could be one of the best West Virginia teams yet.
“Just being a leader and helping a lot of the younger guys out now that I know where I’m supposed to be and how things go, so helping on the court and off the court,” Paige said is where his priorities lay as the season approaches.
In terms of the press, Paige agreed with Phillip as to how well the new guys are progressing.
“They’re getting it, we’ve got a lot of young athletes so it fits our style very well,” said Paige. “If everybody is playing hard and taking it day by day, we’ll be fine.”
Some of the players headed onto the practice court wearing “Houston 4-4-16” shirts, stating the date and location of the next Final Four. There’s also a “2016 National Champions” sign posted right by the entrance door to the locker room. It’s evident that Huggins’ and his squad believe they have a legitimate shot at making another run for the National Championship, especially with the installation of powerful freshmen like Esa Ahmad.
“I think this has really helped our freshman,” said Huggins in reference to the pre-Bahamas practices. “It’ll give them an idea of what’s coming.”
Huggins and the Mountaineers embark on their pre-season journey to the Bahamas on August 9 and will return to Morgantown on Saturday, August 15.