If you are the head basketball coach at West Virginia University and you just lost five players from a 21-12 team, what do you do? Well, you replace them as best you can with the best high school talent you can, and then schedule a trip to Italy so the newcomers can get some experience playing with the few holdovers that remain.
At least that is what head coach Bob Huggins is doing with his 2011-2012 basketball team. The result is the team can practice 10 times prior to the August 8 departure, and they get to play six or seven games while abroad, plus several more days of practice in Italy.
When practice resumes in the fall as many as nine new faces will be on the practice floor. For the trip to Italy the number will be fewer. Transfers Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten will have to sit out the upcoming season and miss the trip abroad, because of NCAA transfer rules, but will be able to practice with the team this fall. Having the 6-10 Murray, who is expected to develop into a premier college center, available to practice against holdovers Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Noreen and newcomer Pat Forsythe, will force those players to raise their game a notch or two.
Staten is a cat quick guard who will also raise the level of competition in practice. Just how Huggins goes about replacing Casey Mitchell, Cam Thoroughman, Joe Mazzulla, Johnnie West and transfer Dalton Pepper will be interesting. Guard Jabarie Hinds, considered by many to be the star of this recruiting class, has not yet arrived on campus. Nor has JUCO transfer Dominique Rutledge. Media reports say both are expected in August, but nervous Nellies out there aren’t so sure. Both are apparently awaiting qualifying test scores.
As of now, Huggins has five new faces to work with for the August trip. Forsythe is a center, point guard Gary Browne, shooting guard Aaron Brown, forwards Tommie McCune and Keaton Miles fill out the list of available newcomers. Of course, the two most experienced returning Mountaineers are Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant. Those two players will be counted on heavily to lead the freshmen. Jones should instill a quality work ethic in the newcomers. Bryant’s leadership skills are a little different as he should be valuable to the new guys by telling them how to stay out of Huggins’ dog house since the affable guard has spent much time there.
Most of the veterans and newcomers played in a summer league against players mostly from Pitt, Robert Morris and Duquesne in Pittsburgh recently. There was not a lot of information flowing from the games except that the newbies started slowly and showed improvement as the games went on. The most favorable comments seemed to center on the speed of Browne from end line to end line and the upside of Miles becoming a physical forward.