The first, at point guard, is difficult only because of the sheer numbers. The most viable current option is Jevon Carter, the sophomore who was thrust into the role late last season when both Juwan Staten and Gary Browne were sidelined with injuries. Carter set-up the offense and ran the one effectively late in the regular season and in the Big 12 Tournament match-up with Baylor before giving way to Staten in the NCAAs. Carter is also adept at playing off the ball, and the Mountaineers will try to utilize him in that capacity well.
That was the original plan before potential starter James "Beetle" Bolden went down with a season-ending knee injury. Bolden had played well in the Bahamas, Huggins saying he matched up with “grown men” in the three-game set and performed admirably. There was a concern if his 6-0, 160-pound frame could hold up against the physicality of the major collegiate game, but that proved a moot point after the injury, which has thrust the role back to Carter.
Add in Daxter Miles and Tarik Phillip and the point spot is crowded in the most positive of ways. And while no player could be listed as a true point, a la Staten, Carter, Miles and Phillip each bring a different blend of ball handling, size, floor vision and mentality to the position.
“We lost two very good, quality seniors,” Huggins said. “Juwan Staten had a perfect career for us. I think the big thing that we'll miss is the ball security those guys provided for us. Juwan was one of those guys you couldn't trap, you couldn't take the ball from him, and he made free throws. So he was invaluable in the games. So we're kind of looking to replace that with some of the guys that actually played a good bit when he and Gary both were injured.
“Dax's ball skills have gotten better. I don't really want to change Dax's mentality. Dax has been a guy who goes and tries to score, and we need him to score. So I don't see him playing a lot there. He could. He's skilled enough to play there. Obviously when Beetle got hurt, that hurt us at point guard. Tarik's getting better and better. It's just a matter of them being there and understanding their responsibilities a little bit more. But I think we're okay there.”
The other question is how, exactly, to utilize the skillset of Esa Ahmad, whose 6-8 length, ability to handle and versatility in defending the two through four positions allow him to be an incredibly valuable asset in playing multiple positions. Players have said Ahmad has flashed significant promise and potential in the early practice sessions, and has embraced his role as he gains comfortability in the physicality and pace of college play.
“We're trying to get him up to speed as best we possibly can,” Huggins said. “He's a talented guy. He's a guy who can bounce it at 6-8, he's a guy who passes it well. The speed of the game I think is affecting him right now, but it's just a matter of him kind of getting used to it. Because he does pass, and he sees the floor really well. He can make shots, obviously. He's a very good rebounder. When we went to the Bahamas, it wasn't certainly like playing in this league, but we did play three games there, and he was our second leading scorer, second leading rebounder.
“He's one of those guys that just knows how to play. I think that is the first thing I've noticed when I watched him. I think the more I watched him, the more I realized this guy has a great aptitude to understand basketball. I think that's his biggest attribute. It's kind of like what Da’Sean Butler was for us in terms of understanding the game, understanding what's supposed to happen.”
The offensive focus for the Mountaineers, due to the loss of Staten and the inside talent of Devin Williams, has shifted to the latter. Williams admitted most of the offense would go through him, though West Virginia won’t become solely an inside-out team. There’s too much shooting ability with the likes of Jaysean Paige and others, and WVU also hopes to continue to score points off turnovers and in transition, though it might not be able to quite match the numbers from that of last season because of a different in personnel and how teams might vary their attack based upon the five-second shot clock reduction.
“I'd like to sit here and give you a very intelligent answer, but obviously I can't, so I don't know,” Huggins said. “I think we're going to continue to try to do what we do. We may have to make a modification or two. But I'm not sure. I don't think five seconds (off the shot clock) makes any difference, if that helps. I think there's an idea out there by a lot of coaches that maybe you have pressure to burn some clock. But at the end of the day, everybody's going to run a quick hitter into a ball screen anyways, and that's what everybody did against us for the last 30 years because we tried to not let people run offense, so we ended up guarding ball screens or sprints, and that's what's going to happen. I don't think that changes much. It's just probably going to be more bad shots taken maybe. But other than that, I don't think there is much difference.”
Huggins was also asked about the press last season, and how it jumpstarted the resurgence capped by the Sweet 16 appearance.
“I was tired of losing, that was the biggest thing,” he said. “I think sometimes it's good to do something different, and I kind of looked around the league and really nobody played that way. So it kind of gives you an advantage to a degree when you're doing something that other people don't do. And we did the system in a different way, it wasn't three-quarter court, it wasn't the full court. The three-quarter court, and it just got to where it was so time consuming. And I've got a guy named Danny Fortson that wasn't very good in the press, but he was a great player, and I didn't want to get him in foul trouble, so I quit pressing.
“Then I happened to run into Kevin Mackey, who I have the utmost respect for. I think he did a better job with pressure basketball than anybody that's ever coached college basketball. Kevin came to Morgantown and watched us practice, and he said you've got the personnel to be able to do this and do it well. Basically what he said was you have to be committed to it. You just can't throw it on. And if they score a couple lay-ups, get out of it, because then your guys lose confidence in it. It gave us great team chemistry, because everybody knew they were going to play. How much you played was up to you. That's kind of what I tried to explain to them. If you play better, you're going to play more. If you don't play as good, you won't play as much, but you're going to play. So everybody went into the game knowing they were going to get in the game and have an opportunity to play, so I thought that was good.”
Note: Huggins was also asked about his choice of colorful pants for media day, and if he’d wear them in a game.
“We were just talking about that over there,” Huggins replied. “I think the only person that would benefit from that is this guy, Dale Sparks, who takes pictures and makes pictures and sells them. One of my friends gave me a gold suit to wear my first year, and it's still the hottest selling picture. I don't know if I want to subsidize Dale any more than what I already have, so probably not (laughter). But I went to graduation. I had to do a little speaking thing at graduation, and President Gee came in with a pair of pants on like this, and I thought, boy, that's a great idea for Media Day. So I ordered me a pair. He wore one gold and one blue sneaker though, Chuck Taylors. I didn't go quite that far. But I don't have the bowtie either. He had the bowtie on as well. Kind of sets the trend for fashion in our state.”