KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Brandishing a bowtie straight out of the Gordon Gee Ivory Tower Collection, Bob Huggins looked dapper during Wednesday’s appearance at Big 12 basketball media days.
“A tribute to our president,” Huggins joked. “And I don’t want people to think they’ve figured me out yet. I kind of like to keep you guessing.”
It’s anyone’s guess where this year’s team stacks up in the Big 12 pecking order, what with West Virginia’s best shooters transferring and so much depending on a cast of newcomers. When the Mountaineers take the court for Friday’s preseason scrimmage at the WVU Coliseum, Huggins expects a more defensive-minded, rim-attacking assembly.
“I like our team. I like the enthusiasm they bring every day,” he said. “I think we’re finally maybe going to try to guard somebody, which would be something new.”
Redshirt freshman Elijah Macon should provide toughness in the paint after missing last season as a partial qualifier. Three wings arrived from the junior college ranks, and two other guards were signed out of high school.
Then there’s junior forward Jonathan Holton, whose exciting freshman season at Rhode Island ended in expulsion before he rejuvenated his career at Palm Beach (Fla.) State Community College. He was forced to redshirt last season while gaining academic eligibility.
“He’s a guy who’s going to get it off the glass. He’s going to get it in transition. He’s going to make open shots,” Huggins said. “And he’s a guy that you don’t have to say this is Jonathan’s play for him to score, which is kind of refreshing.”
All those new additions will compliment two returnees Huggins feels he can rely on: sophomore Devin Williams and senior point guard Juwan Staten.
Williams recorded eight double-doubles as a freshman and worked this summer on improving his scoring moves around the basket. Staten is the Big 12 preseason player of the year hoping to replicate last season’s do-it-all performance of 18.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game. Huggins wants that same kind of production again without Staten having to play a league-leading 37.3 minutes.
“I think he wore down a little bit at the end of the year playing all those minutes,” Huggins said. “I’d like to be able to rest him some more, have him fresher at the end of games.
“I think there were times where he was just spent at the end of games. Where we really needed him sometimes to go and get the ball, he just couldn’t. I think, if we could keep him fresher, we want the ball in his hands, obviously, at the end of games. He’s a guy that can make free throws down the stretch, and he’s a guy that’s not going to turn it over.”
Huggins on scheduling: West Virginia’s nonconference schedule appears more manageable than the last two seasons. There’s only one guaranteed game against a 2014 NCAA tournament team (N.C. State).
Even after 36 years as a head coach, Huggins isn’t sure what impact scheduling has on a team’s development.
“Honestly, you look at some of those teams that ended up going a long way in the tournament, and they play just a horrendous nonconference schedule. Everybody says it makes you better. It only makes you better if you win.
“I think there’s times when you ought to back off a little bit—(when) you have young guys like we had a year ago, to try to develop some confidence. And there’s other times where you have veterans and you need to consistently challenge them.”