Bob Huggins made his team’s frontcourt depth a priority in the 2021 offseason — and it’s not hard to see why.
The Mountaineers were dealt a massive blow as 2020 turned to 2021 when Isaiah Cottrell, a freshman forward poised for big minutes in his first year, tore his Achilles during a Dec. 29 non-conference blowout of Northeastern. The non-contact injury occured just days before Oscar Tshiebwe announced his departure from the Mountaineers, decimating the team’s formidable size touted at the beginning of the season.
Six months later, the sophomore Cottrell is well on the road to recovery, but he is still limited.
“He looks good, [the doctors] haven’t turned him loose yet, but he looks good, he’s doing all the shooting drills and all those kinds of things, it’s just a matter of running, stopping, starting and cutting that they haven’t turned him loose yet to do,” Huggins said.
Cottrell’s progress wasn’t as apparent shortly after the season’s end, however. In fact, Huggins faced the possibility of losing all three of his big men in one season once Derek Culver announced his decision to go professional.
So the head coach turned to the transfer portal to hedge his possible losses.
“We took basically three bigs, but we felt like we needed three bigs with everybody that we lost and the uncertainty with Isaiah,” Huggins said. “If we knew Isaiah was going to be healthy and be 100 percent I don’t know that we would have went to the extreme that we went to.”
Huggins hopes this quartet of size can help facilitate a defensive renaissance with the Mountaineers. He said his team has looked back at some film of his Press Virginia teams, which were led by the guard duo of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles and anchored by the shot-blocking big man Sagaba Konate.
Of course, those names are gone from the program’s roster, and Konate has taken his shot-blocking prowess with him overseas. Huggins isn’t looking for another Konate, though — just some guys that will play defense.
“We’ve gotta do a better job of guarding the ball and we hope that those guys in the back can be an influence, just be an influence,” he said. “They don’t have to block shots, but if they can change shots, that’s terrific.”