Pre-season work tips today for men’s basketball
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Naismith Hall of Fame orange blazer is back in the closet, and now is the time to Bob Huggin to put on those slouchy gray sweatpants and that ubiquitous Little General Stores West Virginia sweater he always wears and get back to work.
Pre-season training began earlier in the day with a three-hour practice inside the basketball practice facility.
Huggins’ team this year is full of new faces, even if they are not unknown.
West Virginia fans got a little taste of the South Carolina guard Erik Stevenson when he was a freshman at Wichita State. Stevenson had a game-high 22 points when WVU defeated the Shockers at the Hard Rock Hotel in Riviera Maya, Mexico three years ago.
Last year, Stevenson averaged 11.6 points and shot 33.3 percent from 3-point range for former South Carolina coach Frank Martin in the SEC.
You must be familiar with transfer to Texas Tre Mitchell as well. The Pittsburgh native was a big scorer at UMass before taking his talents to Austin, Texas last year. The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 8.7 points and 4.0 rebounds in 24 games with the Longhorns last year.
These two were near the top on everyone’s transfer portal lists.
“They both shoot, and they’re both competitive,” Huggins said. “They’ve both played at the highest level. They’re guys who are going to be a lot more comfortable. They’ve played under good coaches and they’ve played in very competitive leagues.”
Leader Joe Toussaint played in 98 games at Iowa, averaging 17.6 minutes, 4.3 points, and 3.2 assists per game while playing Big Ten basketball over the past three years. Toussaint had a big reputation coming out of Cardinal Hayes High in the Bronx where he averaged 22.5 points per game and finished runner-up for New York’s Mr. Basketball.
He has that tough New York basketball heritage, similar to former WVU stars Truck Bryant and Tarik Phillip that Huggins loves so much.
Then there’s the transfer from Washington Emmit Matthews Jr.the same Emmit Matthews Jr. who played three seasons for West Virginia and helped the Mountaineers to the NCAA Tournament in 2021 and what should have been another trip to the playoffs in 2020 before COVID-19 shut things down.
Matthews averaged 11.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and shot 33.6 percent on 3 in his only season playing for the 17-15 Huskies. Emmitt is back at WVU, becoming a rare outgoing and returning transfer player.
Levi Phillips is believed to be the only Mountaineer player to do this, with the late guard moving from WVU to Oklahoma State and then back to WVU for his senior season in 1974.
“He’s a much better offensive player than he was when he left, and he was a really good defender before,” Huggins said of Matthews. “We actually played it as a four because we had to, but I’m sure we can play it as a three which will help us bounce back on both sides.”
All four should be upgrades for West Virginia in their respective positions.
Huggins also hit the juco ranks hard, bringing in a trio of big physicals at 6-foot-10 and 285 pounds. Jimmy Bell Jr. (Moberly Area CC), 6-foot-8, 230 pounds Patrick Suemnick (Triton College) and 6-foot-10 and 225 pounds mohamed wague (Harcum College).
While Huggins would prefer Bell to slim down a bit at around 260, he’s a drag to move around the basket and was the team’s most consistent rebounder during the open gym. The athletic, bouncy Wague is the best rim protector on the team, according to the veteran coach.
“We’ve got a size that we haven’t had in quite a while,” Huggins admitted. “If we can get these guys to where they can score up close, that takes a lot of the pressure off the guys on the perimeter.”
Two high school players, Canton, Ohio Josiah Harrisa 6-foot-7 winger from Richmond Heights, Ohio, and Josiah Davisa 6-foot-3 guard from Kitchener, Ont., who played last year at Teays Valley Christian School near Charleston, West Virginia, gives the Mountaineers long-term potential.
The rest of the roster consists of guys who adapted to WVU last year, most of whom are long distance players.
There’s a starting point keeper coming back Kedrian Johnson, who made the post-season decision to return to WVU for a fifth season of college eligibility. Johnson had a terrific game against UAB in Birmingham and scored a season-high 18 points in a road loss to Arkansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
He is by far the most experienced returning player in West Virginia.
Ohio standout prep Kobe Johnson and Seth Wilson also come back. Johnson made two starts last year as a true freshman after being named Ohio Division I Player of the Year at Canton McKinley High, while Wilson got more minutes near the end of the season and scored a season-high seven points in West Virginia’s 79. -63 win over Iowa State.
Both are tough, physical performers.
Rounding out the roster are a pair of 6-foot-7, 215-pound sophomore forwards Jamal King and super promising 6 feet 8 inches and 240 pounds James Okonkwo from Maidenhead, England.
Huggins says Okonkwo is the only player on the roster who can keep Bell out of the glass and will be a factor this year in some form.
“We needed competitive people,” Huggins said of his additions to the roster. “We just weren’t competitive enough last year. You took Gabe (Osabuohein) out of the deal, and we were really soft. We had to get tougher, and we added tougher guys.
“It’s the greatest depth we’ve had in a long time,” he added.
What does Huggins 16 facee The Mountaineers basketball team is probably the toughest program in school history. WVU will meet Purdue in the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament opener in Portland, Oregon on Nov. 24, then turn around a day later to face either Gonzaga or Portland State the next day before wrapping up the tournament with a match against either Duke, Florida, Oregon State or Xavier.
If it comes to the Musketeers, it will be back-to-back games as West Virginia is scheduled to face Xavier in Cincinnati six days later. Coach Sean Miller has returned to the school he once coached, and some are predicting Xavier will win the Big East this season.
West Virginia’s other Challenge foe this year is Auburn in the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge game to be played at the Coliseum on Saturday, Jan. 28. Auburn is one of the preseason favorites to win the SEC.
“We’re going to find out if we’re good,” Huggins said. “If we’re as good as we hope, it doesn’t matter.”
WVU’s home roster includes enticing non-conference games against Mount St. Mary’s, Morehead State, Penn, Navy, UAB, Buffalo and Stony Brook — all mid-major programs that should boast impressive RPIs.
Additionally, the Backyard Brawl resumes in Pittsburgh with a matchup against Pitt at the Petersen Events Center on Friday, November 11 and, of course, a full 18 round robin slate of Big 12 matches in the No. 1 ranking. basketball conference in America.
It’s a huge challenge, which Huggins, 69, is certainly up to.
“I’m excited,” he noted. “We weren’t very good and sometimes we were bad.
“I can’t sit here and tell you someone didn’t play well. Now they don’t play well every day but they all had their moments and it’s not easy because that has been very competitive,” Huggins concluded.
Subscriptions are currently on sale and can be purchased by logging on to WVUGAME.com.