MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — WVU men’s basketball interim head coach Josh Eilert is ready to focus on basketball.
The new leader of the Mountaineers met with the media on Tuesday, the same day the Big 12 Conference released its slate of league games for the upcoming season.
On top of getting back to basketball and reacting to the schedule, Eilert spoke on a number of topics in his roughly 40 minutes with the media.
Here are some of the top talking points from Eilert’s time at the mic:
The 2023-24 schedule is out
Eilert, the man who used to create WVU’s basketball schedule, officially got his hands on this year’s slate of games on Tuesday.
League play begins on Saturday, Jan. 6, in Houston, Texas, against the Cougars, who have been one of the top programs in the country over the last few years. Back-to-back home games against Kansas State and Texas follow.
A new scheduling format with the expanded Big 12 Conference has the Mountaineers facing five teams — Cincinnati, Kansas State, TCU, Texas, and UCF — twice, and the eight other conference programs once this season. Another change to the schedule is an increase in games that will only be streamed digitally and not on linear cable networks.
“There’s four more schools that we’re working with, and there’s a lot less time slots. So, naturally we’re probably going to be on ESPN+ a lot more than we have been in the past, and every school will have to be,” said Eilert. “We’re evolving, that’s the way things are going in this society, so everybody’s pretty much streaming these days.”
While that change may irk some fans, Eilert is happy with the change, because he believes it will alleviate some of the hurdles in WVU’s travel schedule.
Click here for a more in-depth look at this year’s schedule.
Re-recruiting his own roster
Due to the offseason coaching change, and the current nature of collegiate athletics regarding the transfer portal and other factors, a good chunk of Eilert’s first days and weeks on the job as interim head coach were spent re-recruiting his own players.
Eilert was largely successful in doing so, keeping incumbent players like Seth Wilson, Josiah Harris and Jose Perez on the roster. He also managed to convince incoming transfers like Kerr Kriisa, Jesse Edwards and RaeQuan Battle to stick with the Mountaineers.
It wasn’t an easy task, as he explained the fine line he needed to walk between keeping players on the roster while also trying to bring in new players to fill open slots. Among the highest-priority players to keep in Morgantown is Edwards, the former Syracuse big man.
“He was probably the critical piece that we wanted to make sure we maintained throughout the summer and we could build off,” Eilert said. “That was my main concern, was keeping Jesse and keeping Kerr, and having those guys to build around.”
Asked specifically about players like Kerr and Perez, who did enter the portal during the coaching change, Eilert noted he “wasn’t going to hold them back.”
He added, “If West Virginia is where they want to be ultimately, I’ll re-recruit them. I’ll go back after them and sell them the fact that we have a vision here, we have a foundation here we’re building, and we’re going to do things the right way, and we’re going to have a special year.”
Time to focus on just basketball
It was a difficult offseason for Eilert and his team. However, the offseason is now over.
The preseason has begun. That, largely, means one very important thing to the interim head coach: it’s time to focus solely on basketball.
“It really is [a relief]. Every morning you wake up and figure out how we [can] put ourselves in the best position to win, and grow, and develop as a team. One of the biggest concerns I had was chemistry,” said Eilert. “I mean, you look at the beginning of the summer, and you think you’re going to Italy, and you’re building chemistry and getting six games under your belt and spending two weeks with each other, and that wasn’t the case. So, like I said, the revolving door of the roster, you know, some of these guys just got here a few weeks ago. So, we’re trying to do everything we can as a team, and build that chemistry.”
WVU hosts a charity exhibition against George Mason on Oct. 27, and then begins the regular season on Monday, Nov. 6, against Missouri State.
Young, energetic coaching staff
In case fans forgot, here is a list of Eilert’s coaching staff: DerMarr Johnson (former NBA Draft pick, lengthy pro basketball career), Da’Sean Butler (one of the top players in WVU history, part of the Final Four team), Alex Ruoff (three-point specialist, a key contributor from 2006-09), Jordan McCabe (former WVU guard whose highlight tapes are still watched on YouTube to this day).
Eilert’s oldest assistant coach is Johnson, who is 43 years old. His youngest is McCabe, who just turned 25 earlier this month.
Most of his coaches recently stopped playing collegiately or professionally, but can still lace them up when needed. Eilert told a story of Johnson sprinting down the floor during practice on a day during the summer when WVU was light on numbers.
“We’ve got a young, vibrant coaching staff, eager to get on the floor every day,” said Eilert. “Eager to put that individual work with those guys in, when we had that extra time. So, it’s been fun. And we sit down, and meet every morning, and get on the same page. But yeah, I think the guys and the players we have on our roster really feed off that.”
Among other things, Eilert noted that three of his four assistants are former WVU players, and directly know what it means to put on the Mountaineer uniform.