MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Back when West Virginia was making a late push for the 2008 NCAA tournament, Da’Sean Butler made a habit of pointing out teammates’ mistakes on the floor.
Seeing how Butler was only a sophomore at the time, his teammates didn’t always listen.
“Yeah, sometimes he has some good things to say,” Joe Alexander once said. “Most of the time you just shake your head and get ready to play again.”
Enter the situation West Virginia freshman Jordan McCabe now finds himself in.
Much like Bulter all those years ago, McCabe doesn’t shy away from the fact that he would like to become a vocal leader for the Mountaineers (10-13, 2-8), who will host Texas (13-10, 5-5) at 8 p.m. Saturday at the WVU Coliseum.
“In terms of leadership, I won’t shy away from saying that’s something I think I can help us with in the future,” McCabe said. “Right now, it’s more about picking my spots. It’s a very touchy situation at times.”
Touchy in that McCabe has all of 22 college games under his belt, in which he has averaged 2.7 points and 1.5 assists.
Asked about McCabe’s ability to lead, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said, “I don’t think this year. To be a leader, the others have to respect you and respect your game and respect your knowledge of the game.”
McCabe knows he’s not yet the playmaker he needs to be, yet that doesn’t make him blind, either.
In a season gone terribly wrong for the Mountaineers, good play has come only in spurts, and generally has been followed by poor performances like Monday’s 81-50 loss at Texas Tech — their second 31-point loss of the season.
Consistent play is non-existent, including from the Mountaineers’ older frontline players, who were thought to be the strength of the team heading into the season. No one from the older group of players has seemed to step up and take control of the team.
Hence McCabe’s efforts.
He was the lone player to speak before Friday’s practice.
“I have spoken about our culture quite a few times and it needs to change, obviously,” McCabe said. “We wouldn’t be sitting here at 10-13 if our culture was going in the right direction. We need to change it. It’s on the players. Our coaches have been doing the same thing as they were when they were going to three Sweet 16s in the last four years. It’s on us.”
The list is long in terms of what got the Mountaineers to this point, including injuries to key players like Sagaba Konate and Beetle Bolden, but it also includes inexperienced guards like McCabe not adapting as quickly as Huggins would have liked.
“He has yet to really understand passing lanes and passing angles,” Huggins said of McCabe. “If you make a pass 15 to 17 feet away from a guy and you make it away from the defense, it’s almost impossible for [defenders] to run through it. If you make that same pass from 22 feet away, the chances are really good that they’ll run through it, so you have to maintain spacing, which they don’t understand that. You can get away with that stuff in high school, because they’re better than everyone else. Now they’re not.”
McCabe describes his developing role as finding a sweet spot, meaning he works on improving his own game but also looks to find the right time to be vocal with teammates.
“I’m not here to point fingers, but our culture needs to change and that’s a player thing,” McCabe said. “It’s not a coaches’ thing.”
He recalled re-watching the 83-66 loss at top-ranked Tennessee, in which one of the broadcasters mentioned that the Vols’ practices were led by upperclassmen Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.
“I think Tennessee has one of the best cultures in college basketball,” McCabe said. “There’s a big difference between them and us, because we haven’t been together that long, but [Schofield and Williams] are taking ownership in what they have. I think you need more than one player at this level doing that. I think we have some guys who want that position. To be very blatant, I want that position.”
The Mountaineers would simply like to get out of their current position, which is last place in the Big 12.
“You have two options when you’re in a season like this,” McCabe said. “You can either hit that wall continually and lay down and let the season roll over you, or you can keep pushing and keep doing the right things. It’s a pretty simple formula: If you continue to do the right things, things will eventually turn in your direction. Whether that’s in the very near future or not, it’s going to happen.”