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Eagerly or not, Huggins ready to start West Virginia’s basketball season

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins was already in midseason form at his opening press conference for West Virginia’s 2019-20 basketball season.

“After 43 years, it all runs together,” Huggins said when asked about his anticipation for Friday’s season-opening practice. “Am I going to be all excited and giddy? No. But I don’t know that I ever was.”

At another juncture of his 40-minute session, he expressed disappointment that he couldn’t put the college version of himself in this year’s lineup.

“Start? I’d be the captain,” Huggins proclaimed. “I told our guards – the good thing when I watch them is that I realize what a helluva player I was. I knew when a guy gets open, you pass to them. You don’t wait for him to get covered.”

Grumpy as he may claim to be, other evidence paints a much rosier picture for the newest batch of Mountaineers. West Virginia’s guards are apparently making up for their passing with their shooting.

“We actually make shots,” Huggins said of what will make this year’s team unique. “We don’t have to rely on two or three shots a possession. We don’t have to rely as much on creating turnovers. We have more guys who are capable shotmakers.

“Now that doesn’t mean they’ll always make those shots. But hopefully they don’t all miss on the same day.”

Last year was historically bad for Huggins. It was only his third losing season out of the 37 he has had as a head coach. While team chemistry might not have been quite as bad as the old Red Sox team that inspired the phrase “25 players, 25 cabs,” it certainly was not an asset for the Mountaineers.

A summer trip to Spain didn’t prove much on the court — “honestly the competition wasn’t very good, we could have scored any time we wanted” — it did show Huggins that he won’t be fighting as many off-court battles this season.

“I think we’re pretty good. They were great in Spain,” Huggins said. “Everything they did, they did as a group. Which is different than what it was… They hang out together. They actually like each other.”

Huggins cited a football game the team played on a Spanish beach as a positive example, though it made him glad Logan Routt is on his team rather than Neal Brown’s football team.

“Logan still envisions himself as a quarterback,” Huggins said of the Cameron native. “Only in a town of 300 people could a 7-footer be quarterback and a 5-6 guy be the center.”

Bob Huggins preseason press conference

The Oscar goes to…

The greatest reason for optimism among West Virginia fans is the arrival of 6-foot-9 power forward Oscar Tshiebwe, the first McDonald’s All-American signed by the program since 1986. But Tshiebwe is also a bit of an unknown. A native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tshiebwe didn’t have a visa that permitted him to travel to Spain with the rest of the team.

“He practiced with us before Spain, but we haven’t really done a whole lot with him,” Huggins said. “He’s talented. You can tell just watching him run up and down and rebounding the ball. He’s shooting it pretty good. But it’s hard when you don’t know what you’re doing and there’s so many things going in your head.”

No Self incrimination

Huggins didn’t have much to say about the brewing situation between the NCAA and Big 12 rival Kansas. This week the NCAA charged Kansas and Coach Bill Self with three Level I recruiting violations in a case that looks like it could be one of the most significant in that organization’s history of punishing rulebreakers.

Huggins is aware of the situation, but said he was light on details as of Tuesday.

“I don’t know enough about it to say anything intelligent,” Huggins said. “I really pride myself on sounding intelligent, as you know.”

Bridges to redshirt

As expected, freshman forward Jalen Bridges will redshirt this year. The Fairmont Senior graduate was originally enrolled at a Pennsylvania prep school before signing with the Mountaineers earlier this month.

“He wanted to redshirt,” Huggins said. “That was the plan that they had mapped out, and I’m fine with it. I think that’s a great idea.”

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