MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– West Virginia University head coach was front and center at the Big 12 Media Day on Tuesday morning with his snazzy sense of style.
Huggins showed up in a suit with flying WV dress pants and he was the show stealer.
“We were just talking about that over there,” Huggins said on whether he would wear the pants during a game. “I think the only person that would benefit from that is this guy, Dale Sparks, who takes pictures and makes pictures and sells them.
“One of my friends gave me a gold suit to wear my first year, and it’s still the hottest selling picture. I don’t know if I want to subsidize Dale anymore than what I already have, so probably not (laughter).”
Huggins credits WVU’s fashionista President Gee for the fashion idea.
“I had to do a little speaking thing at graduation, and President Gee came in with a pair of pants on like this, and I thought, boy, that’s a great idea for Media Day,” Huggins said. “So I ordered me a pair. He wore one gold and one blue sneaker though, Chuck Taylors. I didn’t go quite that far. But I don’t have the bowtie either. He had the bowtie on as well. Kind of sets the trend for fashion in our state.”
With the joking aside, Huggins knows the Mountaineers have to replace two valuable pieces to last season’s team, Juwan Staten and Gary Browne.
“Well, we lost two very good, quality seniors,” he said. “Juwan Staten had a perfect career for us. I think the big thing that we’ll miss is the ball security those guys provided for us. Juwan was one of those guys you couldn’t trap, you couldn’t take the ball from him, and he made free throws. So he was invaluable in the games.”
WVU was without both Staten and Browne at the end of last season and the Big 12 Tournament. So their replacements have an idea of what it takes to get the job done.
Last season “Press Virginia” took the nation by surprise and Huggins thought WVU needed a change after several disappointing seasons.
“I was tired of losing, that was the biggest thing,” he said. “I think sometimes it’s good to do something different, and I kind of looked around the league and really nobody played that way. So it kind of gives you an advantage to a degree when you’re doing something that other people don’t do.
“And we did the system in a different way, it wasn’t three quarter court, it wasn’t the full court. The three quarter court, and it just got to where it was so time consuming. And I’ve got a guy named Danny Fortson that wasn’t very good in the press, but he was a great player, and I didn’t want to get him in foul trouble, so I quit pressing.”
Huggins credits former Cleveland State head coach Kevin Mackey with the idea of returning to running the press.
“I happened to run into Kevin Mackey, who I have the utmost respect for,” he said. “I think he did a better job with pressure basketball than anybody that’s ever coached college basketball. I ran into Kevin, we started talking about it, and we talked on the phone a few times.
“Then Kevin came to Morgantown and watched us practice, and he said you’ve got the personnel to be able to do this and do it well. And we continued to talk. Actually we still continue to talk about some different things. But basically what he said was you have to be committed to it. You just can’t throw it on. And if they score a couple lay-ups, get out of it, because then your guys lose confidence in it.”
Mackey may have given Huggins the idea but it was the chemistry of the team that made the press successful for the Mountaineers.
“I think what it did for us, it gave us great team chemistry, because everybody knew they were going to play,” Huggins said. “How much you played was up to you. That’s kind of what I tried to explain to them. If you play better, you’re going to play more. If you don’t play as good, you won’t play as much, but you’re going to play. So everybody went into the game knowing they were going to get in the game and have an opportunity to play, so I thought that was good.”
WVU snagged a gem when Cleveland native Esa Ahmad signed last spring. He is a versatile player, but the freshman has to adapt to the speed of college basketball.
“Well, we’re trying to get him up to speed as best we possibly can,” Huggins said. “He’s a talented guy. He’s a guy who can bounce it at 6′ whatever he is, 6’8″, he’s a guy who passes it well.
“The speed of the game I think is affecting him right now, but it’s just a matter of him kind of getting used to it. Because he does pass, and he sees the floor really well. He can make shots, obviously. He’s a very good rebounder.”
Ahmad showed he could an important piece to the Mountaineers when the team traveled to the Bahamas over the summer.
“When we went to the Bahamas, it wasn’t certainly like playing in this league, but we did play three games there, and he was our second leading scorer, second leading rebounder,” Huggins said. “He’s one of those guys that just knows how to play.
“I think that is the first thing I’ve noticed when I watched him. I think the more I watched him, the more I realized this guy has a great aptitude to understand basketball. I think that’s his biggest attribute. It’s kind of like what Da’Shawn Butler was for us in terms of understanding the game, understanding what’s supposed to happen.”
College basketball adopted several new rule changes this season, including a 30 second shot clock. With that there has been concern the new rules may affect how the Mountaineers defends opponents.
At first Huggins was disappointed with the new rules, but he isn’t sure it will affect his team or not.
“We’re going to scrimmage here in a couple weeks,” he said. “We’ve got a scrimmage with Temple and see how much has changed, how we have to play. I’d like to sit here and give you a very intelligent answer, but obviously I can’t. I think we’re going to continue to try to do what we do.
“We may have to make a modification or two. But I’m not sure. I don’t think five seconds makes any difference, if that helps. I think there’s an idea out there by a lot of coaches that maybe you have pressure to burn some clock. But at the end of the day, everybody’s going to run a quick hitter into a ball screen anyways, and that’s what everybody did against us for the last 30 years because we tried to not let people run offense, so we ended up guarding ball screens or sprints, and that’s what’s going to happen. I don’t think that changes much.”
With Staten and Browne gone, there have been a lot of questions about who will run the point for the Mountaineers this season. The addition of James “Beetle” Bolden was supposed to benefit WVU, but the freshman’s injury sidelined him for the entire season.
Huggins doesn’t have a plan set in stone for the upcoming season just yet, but the Mountaineers have a few options.
“There’s not a lot of absolutes, but absolutely Jaysean will not be in the equation,” Huggins said. Dax could be. Dax’s ball skills have gotten better. I don’t really want to change Dax’s mentality. Dax has been a guy who goes and tries to score, and we need him to score. So I don’t see him playing a lot there. He could. He’s skilled enough to play there.
“Obviously when Beetle got hurt, that hurt us at point guard, but Jaysean’s getting better, and better. Tarik’s getting better and better. It’s just a matter of them being there and understanding their responsibilities a little bit more. But I think we’re okay there.”
Huggins’ squad will give fans a chance to see the Mountaineers in action on Saturday during the Gold-Blue Debut. WVU will take on Glenville State on Nov. 6 in preseason action at the Coliseum.