Huggins pledges tighter defense, more athleticism next season

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins pledges to produce a longer, more athletic team next season that can improve on two years’ of drab defensive performances.


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins has a new hip and an old yearning for defense. He thinks both will allow him to enjoy next season.

During Tuesday night’s appearance on MetroNews “Sportsline,” Huggins blamed himself for overvaluing offensive-minded players the past two years, which he claims led to West Virginia’s defensive malaise. In 2013-14 the Mountaineers ranked last in the Big 12 in field-goal defense (44.7 percent) and eighth in points allowed per possession. That followed the 2012-13 season in which WVU ranked next-to-last in both categories.

The aggregate two-year results: a 30-35 record and no NCAA tournament berths.

“I didn’t do a very good job of holding those guys who made shots accountable at the defensive end,” Huggins said. “We didn’t guard and we didn’t stop anybody, and the problem with that is when you miss some shots other people tend to go on runs.”

With three of five newcomers enrolled, and holdovers Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton set to become eligible this season, Huggins foresees a return to those taut defensive teams that trademarked his career.

“I think we’re going to be able to stop people,” he said. “We’re faster, we’re longer and I think we can do some more things than we did before at the defensive end. … We have tremendously increased our athleticism, which we needed to do. The Big 12 is a pretty athletic league.”

Freshmen Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles are on campus, along with Moberly (Mo.) Community College signee Jaysean Paige. Two other junior college additions, point guard Tarik Philip and small forward Billydee Williams, will arrive “within a week or so,” the coach said.

Following the transfers of sophomore double-digit scorers Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, the presumption was one of the juco signees would win the shooting guard job next to All-American candidate Juwan Staten. But that might be premature.

“Jevon Carter has played very well,” Huggins said. “He has shot the ball better than anybody on our team.”

As coaches begin their summer evaluation period, West Virginia has two commitments for the 2015 class—point guard James Bolden of Covington, Ky., and center Levi Cook of Huntington Prep—leaving at least one spot available.

The Mountaineers have yet to receive a commitment for 2016, when at least three scholarships project to come open.

“We need a big, obviously, and I think we need another skill guy—somebody who can eventually evolve into Juwan Staten’s role,” Huggins said. “Then I’d really like to have a 6-7, 6-8 guy who’s like Da’Sean Butler.”

The 60-year-old Huggins celebrated one month since having his right hip replaced June 9, a surgery he delayed for several years for fear of tackling the rehab.

“It just got to the point where I wasn’t very functional,” he said.

Huggins used a sideline stool last season after it became too painful to get up out of the folding chairs on the bench. Now he has started biking and is regaining mobility in the leg.

“It hurt for a while. I guess when they saw your leg in half it has a tendency to hurt,” he said. “Now I can actually lift my leg up—I don’t have to pick it up with my hands.”

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