But as the Mountaineers have moved into the Big 12 Conference, recruiting has started to shift a bit in recent years away from the old areas that proved to be so successful for WVU when it was in the Big East. And to get things back where they were, head coach Bob Huggins returned to an old, familiar territory - the state where he first made his name as one of the most successful coaches in all of college basketball.
The West Virginia roster featured three players from Ohio a year ago - Juwan Staten, Devin Williams and Elijah Macon - and next year Williams and Macon return, along with Shaker Heights native Esa Ahmad and Cincinnati’s Lamont West. A third player, point guard James “Beetle” Bolden, comes to WVU from Covington, Kentucky, which is just a six-minute drive from Cincinnati.
“Ohio, historically, has always had a bunch of players,” Huggins said. “When you have as many cities with the type of population they have, you’re going to have those options to look for. There’s plenty to choose from, and when you have the type of contacts I have there, it wouldn’t be smart of me if I didn’t recruit a lot of guys in that area.”
Players like Williams have talked in the past about remembering Huggins’ great Cincinnati teams and having dreams of one day getting to play for the coach. And so it comes as no surprise that the veteran mentor has been able to lure in so many talented players from that area in the last few seasons.
There’s one theme among all of these players, though, and it helps them draw even more comparisons to why the players from New York and New Jersey helped the Mountaineers have so much success in those early years of the Huggins era at WVU. If you look at all of them, they all fit in quite well with the style of play that West Virginia likes to play with. Williams and Macon provide muscle in the paint and will be two of the post players the Mountaineers will rely on the most in the future. Ahmad is versatile enough to play a lot of positions, including giving West Virginia a true wing player that it needs to take that next step in the future - and West, a 6-foot-8 guard, can provide the same. Bolden’s a tough, hard-nosed point guard who could fit in quite nicely to a WVU rotation that lost Staten and Gary Browne a year ago.
”We are excited about this group,” Huggins said. “They will go a long way in helping us adjust with the losses of our senior class. Collectively, I’m most impressed with their basketball IQ. All of them can play multiple positions and in a variety of ways.”
But at the end of the day, it’s the attitude and mentality that has allowed these players to fit in as well as they have - and Huggins hopes will continue to - at WVU.
“We’re the type of guys that grind it out. We play with a chip on our shoulders, and that’s the type of style that Coach Huggs likes to play with,” Williams said in March. “He’s that type of guy. He comes from that same idea of wanting to prove something to people and that’s what us Ohio guys like to do. That’s what this whole team likes to do."