For his team’s first appearance at the billion-dollar Barclays Center, Bob Huggins dressed up in a suit. After West Virginia’s night ended in an 81-66 loss to No. 3 Michigan, Huggins dressed down two of his big men — one who was in an adjacent locker room and another who was 400 miles away.
Starting power forward Deniz Kilicli played only eight minutes in the first half and was yanked for good just 45 seconds after intermission, punishment for spectating while others scrummed at his feet for a loose ball. Center Aaric Murray didn’t see Brooklyn at all, left behind in Morgantown for failing to meet Huggins’ disciplinary code.
Big role changes are afoot for the Mountaineers’ big men, and why not? A 4-5 record built upon mediocre effort, puny production and what Huggins chastised as a lack of commitment from certain players came to head in the past four days with losses to Duquesne and Michigan, teams on the opposite ends of the Division I totem pole. Much to Huggins’ chagrin, WVU is closer to Duquesne’s end at this juncture.
“I’m sick of it,” Huggins said. “I’m sick of watching guys stand around. I’m sick of watching guys not compete. I’m sick of guys missing shot after shot after shot but never coming in early (to practice), never staying late, don’t even think about coming in on an off day. And then telling me they care?”
Kilicli, just 4-of-15 in the past four games despite taking most of his shots in point-blank proximity, was 0-for-Brooklyn on three attempts. So much for the bulky senior being the focal point of the offense.
“Deniz hasn’t finished anything around the rim and we’re not playing Deniz for his defensive ability, obviously,” Huggins said. “We can’t gear a lot of what we do around somebody who’s not going to finish.
“I love Deniz, I want you to understand that. Deniz is one of my favorite guys of all-time. I love him to death. But I’m not sure I love anybody enough to lose for him. I don’t know if I love my wife that much, to lose for her.”
At least June Huggins has that till-death-do-us-part clause on her side. Aaric Murray has no such promise, and at times during Saturday’s postgame session, Huggins insinuated a player-coach divorce could be forthcoming if Murray doesn’t rectify his attitude.
“I mean, honestly, did we miss him? I don’t think we did,” said Huggins, perhaps noticing that WVU, even without its leading rebounder, essentially stalemated Michigan on the boards. “And if he doesn’t do right in the future, we’re not going to miss him then either.”
In truth, West Virginia missed Murray terribly. Or, to clarify, West Virginia missed the shot-altering, dynamic finisher Murray becomes when properly engaged. That Murray surfaced against Marshall and Virginia Tech, but otherwise the LaSalle transfer has been a hologram of the NBA prospect he purports to be.
“I’ve left guys home who were way, way, way better than Aaric Murray,” Huggins said, inflecting each “way” with mounting emphasis. “I’ve sent a couple guys home after we got (to road games) that are way, way, way better than Aaric Murray.
“Our guys are going to do right. It’s going to be about ‘We.’ It’s never going to be about ‘Me.’”
“I’ve left guys home who were way, way, way better than Aaric Murray. Our guys are going to do right. It’s going to be about ‘We.’ It’s never going to be about ‘Me.’” — Bob Huggins
The venerable coach radiated plenty of resolve, but Huggins’ pride was clearly dinged by his alma mater producing such an under-achieving team. What’s more, he seemed disillusioned that this squad is devoid of the drive that fueled former standouts such as Joe Alexander, Alex Ruoff and Kevin Jones.
“They were in the gym,” Huggins said. “They weren’t hanging out on High Street, they weren’t hanging out at some girl’s house — they were in the gym. There’s no way we would have lost to Duquesne and KJ not been in the gym all day the next day.”
Huggins frequently sounds nostalgic these days, recounting how obsessively former players worked to develop their games, how intensely previous teams attacked the first signs of trouble. For now, those memories will have to suffice.