MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Coach Bob Huggins contends the attrition facing West Virginia basketball is “not nearly alarming as has been portrayed by some people” because transfers are making the entire Division I landscape nomadic.
During a 50-minute session with reporters Saturday—staged in the wake of Terry Henderson becoming the second sophomore starter to leave WVU this spring—Huggins defended his coaching style, reinforced the state of the program and predicted that next season’s team would meet his competitive standards.
“We’re going to be fine,” he said. “We are fine.”
After reaching the NCAA tournament for five straight years, Huggins’ last two teams have been anything but fine. They have combined to go 30-35 with the only postseason exposure reduced to a one-game cameo in this spring’s NIT.
The prospects for making next year’s NCAA field have been downgraded by the departures of two developing standouts—Eron Harris (17.2 points per game) and Henderson (11.6 points), who were roommates last season.
Harris announced shortly after the season ended that he planned to transfer and subsequently has drawn interest from a slew of elite programs, including Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Kentucky and Louisville. Yet Henderson asked for his release only this week as spring semester closed.
While Huggins had an inkling one of the guards might leave, he admitted “one of them totally caught me off-guard.”
Huggins apparently was referencing Henderson, who became the 12th signee to transfer out of West Virginia or fail to enroll since the 2010 Final Four appearance. That figure was a point of contention for Huggins, who criticized two newspapers for being “misleading” in reporting that attrition culled 12 of 16 players in that span.
“I just wish when you throw figures out there, that you throw accurate figures,” he said. “We’ve signed 23 guys since the Final Four; we haven’t signed 16. We’ve signed 23. So that 12 of 16 number is not accurate, it’s 12 of 23.”
Remi Dibo may become No. 13. Huggins said the 6-foot-7 forward told an assistant he planned to skip his senior season in order to pursue a pro career in his native France. That’s another 7.3 points lost, though Dibo’s defense and rebounding were lacking.
Huggins, himself the product of a transfer that led him to attend WVU in 1975, repeatedly referenced the increasing normality of players switching schools. For the second straight year, more than 500 Division I players are transferring. Some, like Harris and Henderson, will be forced to sit out a season, while others who have earned their undergraduate degrees will be eligible immediately at their new programs.
“It’s not just here. It happens everywhere,” Huggins said. “It’s kind of the times.”
While reluctant to say he feels the need to “re-recruit” players each offseason, Huggins refuted the notion players are leaving because of a disconnect with the staff.
“You’ve never heard any of these guys say they didn’t have a relationship with the coaching staff,” he said.
And what about the assertion that the 60-year-old Huggins’ boisterous and demanding style doesn’t suit today’s players?
“Every former guy who comes back says to me, ‘Why are you being so soft? Why have you changed so much?”
The closest the coach came toward sounding testy Saturday occurred when a columnist questioned a perceived slip in recruiting.
“We’ve been in postseason six of the seven years I’ve been here. Five consecutive (NCAA bids)—tied for the most in school history. A Final Four, the second in school history,” Huggins said. “If I’m recruiting that bad then I’m doing a heck of a job coaching.”
Huggins declined to reveal Henderson’s rationale for leaving, saying “I’m not going to get into personal stuff.” But despite losing two guards whose development seemed ready to payoff next season, the coach talked about a lineup infused by three newly signed guards and the long-awaited availability of forwards Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton.
There’s also the returning centerpiece, All-Big 12 point guard Juwan Staten, who said he passed up the NBA draft partly because he felt next year’s team was good enough to play in the NCAA tournament. If that happens, it will be with a decidedly different cast than Staten anticipated.
“The reality is we have five new guys coming in that I think are pretty good,” Huggins said. “And don’t forget, we’ve got probably the leader for the Big 12 player of the year coming back and he’s going to have the ball in his hands.”