MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — College basketball’s preseason has officially arrived.
The West Virginia men’s basketball team’s preseason practice schedule tipped off Monday, as the Mountaineers are just over one month away from their exhibition against Bowling Green on Oct. 28.
Head coach Bob Huggins, who was recently enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, spoke Monday about this year’s team, the transfer portal, Joe Mazzulla, and where his Hall of Fame jacket is today.
Here are the biggest takeaways:
“The ball goes in”
Getting the Bear to smile during a press conference is not always easy. As a head coach with more than 40 years of experience, he’s been in enough media sessions that he remains largely reserved during them.
But on Monday, when asked what excites him about this team, Huggins smiled wide as he delivered his answer.
“The ball goes in…The ball actually goes in,” said the head coach.
He later added: “We got a couple guys who can really shoot.”
The ball not going in as frequently as he would like on game days has been a point of emphasis with his teams over the past few seasons. Last year’s team made just 41.3 percent of its shots overall.
Even with only offseason workouts and tape of previous seasons to go on, Huggins used many good descriptors for the players on this team, and the group as a whole. He described this year’s team as having “good size,” being “active,” and “competitive.”
Huggins believes he has the bodies to press and be versatile on defense, as well. Thus far, he is also impressed by the depth at his disposal.
“I couldn’t sit here and tell you someone who hasn’t played well,” Huggins said. “They’ve all had their moment where they play really well.”
Early thoughts on select newcomers
Nine of the 14 players on this year’s WVU men’s basketball roster were playing their home games in a venue not named the WVU Coliseum last year. Two newcomers are freshmen, while multiple incoming players were on NCAA Power 5 rosters last season.
Here are some quick thoughts about some of those newcomers from the head coach.
Emmitt Matthews Jr. (Washington): Initial thoughts – “The ball’s going in. Yeah, the ball’s going in. He’s not slinging it from over his head. His mechanics are really good. He’s a much, much better offensive player, I think, than he was when he left.” On his return to WVU – “I thought the world of Emmitt when he was here.”
Erik Stevenson (South Carolina): Initial thoughts – “He makes shots.” On Stevenson being a leader – “Erik kind of leads whether they want him to or not. He’s the alpha of the group.” Watching him at previous stops – “I liked him when he was a freshman at Wichita [State]. He got them back in the game. We had them down pretty good, and he came off the bench and got them back in the game as a freshman. He’s always been kind of interesting to watch.”
Jimmy Bell Jr. (Moberly Area CC [MO]): “Jimmy’s really worked at it. He’s worked out four times today. And nobody has made him. Jimmy really wants to be a good player. Got great feet for a guy that big, great feet.”
Josiah Davis (Teays Valley Christian School [WV]): “He’s playing well. And you’ve got to give him a lot of credit, he’s a West Virginia kid who wanted to play at West Virginia. He’s competitive. He makes things competitive. You look at our point guard position, it’s very competitive.”
Huggins spoke about almost every newcomer on this year’s team. Click on the video of his full press conference for more of his comments on players not specifically listed here.
Watching and learning will benefit Joe Mazzulla
It was announced last week that former Mountaineer guard Joe Mazzulla will be the Boston Celtics interim head coach for this season.
Mazzulla has received the backing of those both within the Celtics organization and outside the organization. Huggins is certainly among Mazzulla’s supporters, and he expects the former Mountaineer to adapt quickly to challenges, just as he did at previous stops in his career.
“Joe had his mind set on what he wanted to do. He got the year of coaching at Fairmont,” said Huggins. “He got experience. It’s not the same, it’s a completely different animal, but he got the opportunity to sit on the bench and watch how it was done. Joe will watch and learn.”
Mazzulla has been part of the Celtics organization for the past three seasons. He helped lead Boston’s NBA Summer League team to the league finals.
“It’s a different world, but fortunately Joe got to spend enough time, I think, on the bench, and he absorbed a lot of it,” said Huggins. “That’s part of it. You know, absorbing it and it happening — it happens pretty fast. But he’ll figure it out.”
Huggins likes the transfer portal
Huggins and the Mountaineers have largely built this year’s roster through the transfer portal. It has become a way of life for college coaches at all levels.
“I thought I’d hate it. I thought I’d hate it, and I like it. I do like it,” Huggins said. “I mean, I guess as long as you’re able to pick out who you want like we did it’s pretty good. I kind of liked it.”
Huggins, who reminded those on hand that he transferred during his collegiate career, worries about the players who enter the transfer portal and don’t find a new home. However, he has made use of the transfer portal in recent years. This offseason alone, he brought in four Power 5 conference players through it.
“We’ve gotten probably two of the best guys in the portal,” said Huggins. “The best guys are whatever fills your needs. But I don’t mind it as much as I thought I would.”
According to the head coach, Matthews called Huggins when he was ready to return to Morgantown. Huggins added that he stays in contact with many former players who are still playing college basketball.
“Because they left doesn’t mean we don’t communicate,” he said.