MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — He’s talking about practice. Not a game. Not a game. Practice.
But a week into West Virginia’s preseason basketball workouts, sophomore Jordan McCabe can already tell that this year’s Mountaineers are going to be doing things differently than last year’s dysfunctional group.
“We’ve had quite a few really good practices. Last year, they were few and far between as far as walking away from a drill in practice saying ‘we’ve got something done,’” McCabe said. “That hasn’t been an issue this year. We all want to be here and we all want to work. The biggest change is when guys want to be here, good things happen.”
A much more prominent Wisconsinite than McCabe is credited with coining the phrase “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
Last year’s Mountaineers proved the opposite of Vince Lombardi’s adage is also true. Lousy practice made lousy. At 15-21, the team was only the fourth to finish with a losing record in Bob Huggins’ coaching career.
The sloppy play manifested itself largely on the offensive end. Opponents stole the ball from West Virginia on 11.4 percent of the Mountaineers’ possessions. Only five teams in the entire country were sloppier, and all of them played in low-major, one-bid leagues.
McCabe thinks this year’s mix of returners and newcomers is paying a bit more attention to the methods that account for the 33 winning seasons on Huggins’ résumé.
“I don’t think we were bought in to our system, the system that’s worked for how many years,” McCabe said. “I don’t know why that was the case psychologically from player to player, but last year we weren’t bought into the system offensively as we needed to be. This year that’s not an issue.”
McCabe said the buy-in isn’t very complicated, and it should result in fewer turnovers.
“You buy into the system, you listen to what coach tells you to do,” McCabe said. “For me, that’s keeping the ball in the middle of the floor. For other guys, it might be getting open on the wings. Whatever it may be, as long as everyone is doing their job, turnovers shouldn’t be an issue.”
Defense was also a problem, as evidenced by a season-ending 109-91 loss to Coastal Carolina in the CBI. This is another area in which McCabe sees the Mountaineers improving in the preseason.
“We compete. That’s a staple everybody can get behind,” McCabe said. “I’m not saying that to blow smoke. This team competes at every position. You’ve got guys going at it every practice – in a good way.
“[The coaches] don’t have to worry about coaching effort. They can do their jobs coaching some of the best basketball in the country, which is something they’ve done for a very long time.”