MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For 36 seasons the recruiting battles for West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins have involved phone calls, in-home visits and across-the-country scouting trips in search of players.
“You’re happy with each one you get,” Huggins said. “But you’re happy for different reasons.”
Five-star recruit Oscar Tshiebwe made Huggins and his coaching staff very happy Saturday when the 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward announced his commitment to West Virginia.
Tshiebwe, a native of Congo who attends Kennedy Catholic in Hermitage, Pa., chose the Mountaineers over finalists Kentucky, Baylor and Illinois.
I have been humbled by all the coaches recruiting me and people wondering where I would attend school. Thank you for everything. Time to go to work, KC Pride and Mountaineer Nation going for Championships. Country roads take me home pic.twitter.com/pNBEZ3r9gx
— Oscar (@Oscartshiebw) October 20, 2018
In an interview with Rivals.com, Tshiebwe credited West Virginia for being the first school to notice him:
“They have been on me for the longest time and just for me, I just felt the best there and that they could make me the best I can be,” he said.
“I feel like I am the most comfortable around Coach Huggins compared to any of the coaches that were recruiting me. He said that he is going to treat me like his son and push me every day. He has always said that I was his only guy that he wanted and that I was his priority.”
Tshiebwe shot up the national recruiting rankings this summer, playing with ITPS Wildcats, an AAU team based in Pennsylvania.
In March, Tshiebwe was not ranked, but by last month, had shot up to No. 21 overall by Rivals.com.
That ranking makes him the second-highest recruit to commit to WVU — after Devin Ebanks, who was ranked 11th by Rivals.com in 2008 — since Huggins took over as coach in 2007.
Tshiebwe is ranked No. 32 nationally by ESPN.
West Virginia first offered a scholarship in the summer of 2016, following Tshiebwe’s freshman season. Mountaineers assistant Ron Everhart first saw Tshiebwe while recruiting forward Maceij Bender at Mount Mission in Grundy, Va.
Through the years, Huggins said that changes in culture and technology have made an impact in the recruiting game.
In the end, though, relationships and trust matter, Huggins said. It’s the ability to look each other in the eye and create a mutual bond.
“I’ve always thought and I still think we always get guys because of relationships,” Huggins said days before Tshiebwe’s announcement. “The relationships I have with the people in their ears; the relationships [WVU assistants] Larry [Harrison], Ronnie and Erik [Martin] had with them.”
As with any recruiting pitch, Huggins, who isn’t permitted to speak about Tshiebwe until he signs a national letter-of-intent, said he leaned on West Virginia’s practice facility and the family atmosphere that surrounds the facility with any number of former players who come in to work out.
“But, it still comes down to relationships,” Huggins said. “In the end, there is a lot of crazy stuff that goes on. There are a lot of things said and done that are crazy. You have to have somebody on the inside that kind of says, ‘Wait a minute, let’s sit down and talk again about what’s really important.”
Tshiebwe joins a recruiting class that includes Miles McBride, a 6-foot-1 point guard from Cincinnati.
Esa Ahmad is the only scholarship senior on the team, but junior forward Sagaba Konate is projected in several mock drafts as a 2019 NBA first-round pick and could leave school early.
WEST VIRGINIA’S HIGHEST-RANKED RECRUITS UNDER BOB HUGGINS:
|Devin Ebanks||2008||No. 11
|Oscar Tshiebwe||2019||No. 21
|Kevin Jones||2008||No. 73
|Elijah Macon||2013||No. 56
|Devin Williams||2013||No. 64
|Esa Ahmad||2015||No. 72||No. 46|
|Noah Cottrill||2010||No. 82||No. 73|
|Derek Culver||2018||No. 89||No. 63|
|Jabarie Hinds||2011||No. 93||NA|
|Tommie McCune||2011||No. 102||No. 63|
|Emmitt Matthews||2018||No. 125||NA|
|Sagaba Konate||2016||No. 137||NA|
|Dalton Pepper||2009||No. 139||No. 96|
|Trey Doomes||2018||No. 142||NA|
|Jordan McCabe||2018||No. 147||No. 86|
|Deniz Kilicli||2009||NA||No. 47|
|Danny Jennings||2009||NA||No. 60|
|Truck Bryant||2008||NA||No. 90|