The ingredient? Enthusiasm. Not the sort of rah-rah cheering one gets from cheerleaders or fans, but a genuine liking for the game – an appreciation of the fundamentals and hard work that combine, over days and weeks and months of practice, to forge a winning team. So far, in what has to be termed a disappointing start to West Virginia's 2010-11 season, it hasn't been evident.
Huggins has used different terms to describe this missing aspect as the season has unfolded. Earlier this year, he labeled it 'effort' while noting that he could teach the technical points of the game, or that he could teach effort, but not both at the same time. Clearly, the idea of having to coach effort was not his first choice, but that is what he's been forced to do as his team has played an uninspiring brand of ball while losing four games almost before the calendar turned to 2011.
He's also discussed 'toughness', 'desire' and 'resolve' at various points this year, and did so again as the Mountaineers prepared to depart for DePaul and what has suddenly become a must-win game.
"I think that whatever you do in life, if you don't do it with some enthusiasm, you are not going to be successful," he said by way of explaining one of the shortcomings of his team to date. "People aren't going to be around you very long. I think people hate to be in a workplace where people are unenthusiastic."
Huggins has clearly been unhappy with the way his team has competed at times this year, although he did allow that the squad's demeanor was improved in the loss to Marquette last Saturday. Still, the coach, who freely admits losing tears at him like nothing else, is apparently mystified by his team's lack of competitive fire.
"In athletics, it comes down to you against them, generally speaking. If they want it more than you do, then they usually win. There are times when [one team] is much more talented, but by and large it comes down to who wants it the most."
Unfortunately, that hasn't been WVU this year, and it's something that gnaws at Huggins. When his team says the same thing after losses, there's not much doubt it's a problem that has to be corrected. But just how does that happen? Huggins noted that 'you have to play with what you have" and if there's not an obvious leader like Da'Sean Butler to put the team on his back, then another method must be found. Identifying that method, though, isn't an easy task.
"We have to do what we've got to do to win," Huggins said simply. "Our resolve has to get a lot better."
The veteran coach pointed out some instances in the Marquette loss as evidence of that lack.
"We get outrebounded by 10, and that doesn't help our cause any, particularly when we are up by one with less than two minutes to go and give up a rebound dunk," Huggins recalled sourly. "If there's ever a time to reach down and play harder, it's probably then in the last two minutes. "I think that players, particularly at this level, equate toughness to being physical, but what's way more important is being mentally tough. Running what you are supposed to run, the correct way when you are supposed to run it, and making an open shot when the game's on the line, or giving an incredible effort to rebound it when its missed."
None of those things have been in evidence this year, and while Huggins didn't comment on his team's prospects for the future, he understands that a lack of serious improvement in these area will keep his team at the bottom of the Big East standings. A loss to DePaul, which, while playing better, still seems destined for a similar spot, could be devastating to his team's NCAA tournament aspirations.
"I thing we need to correct rebounding for the rest of the year," he observed. "You want to have more possessions than the other team, and there's several ways you can do that. You can turn it over less, you can force the other team to turn it over, or you can rebound the ball to give yourself extra opportunities."