The year is 2013. Bob Huggins has what he terms as “great kids” on a team that appears to have respectable to very good talent across the board. As the year wears on, though, the future Hall of Fame coach drops more and more comments about the lack of dedication his team is showing – especially in the areas of working on their own. Sprinkled throughout are references to outside interests held by some members of the team, and even some hints of “me-first” attitudes that are plaguing the squad. Despite those messages (and some untimely celebrations of the cult of personality by some media members) that Mountaineer team doesn't come close to a post-season berth.
The next year, some of those issues are gone, but others remain. On the heels of vows to “fix it” especially after a zero-effort loss from some players in an NIT loss to Georgetown – Huggins revamps his roster. Along the way, stories of the work ethic of recent greats, including Kevin Jones, dot his post game press conferences. In doing so, Huggins isn't simply regaling the media with tales of past glories. He's continuing to send a message, and laying the groundwork for the future. Of course, he's also doing so directly to his team, but he's not ignoring these additional avenues in which to preach his gospel.
Following last year's Sweet 16 season, lead by gym rat Juwan Staten, Huggins would seem to have his message firmly etched in the brains of his team. Guys with a year or two experience shouldn't be surprised by them, and this year's newcomers are, according to Huggins, getting help and extra reinforcement from the veterans on the importance of shooting and working out on their own, and on dealing with the many challenges of college ball that they never faced in prep play.
So, it's something of a surprise – and perhaps a bit worrisome – that Huggins has continued to repeat that message this year. Part of it may just be reinforcement, but when West Virginia suffered several poor shooting games earlier this season, he wasted no time in pointing out that a lack of gym time was probably the culprit. To the team's credit, that message was heeded, at least by several players who acknowledged that their alone time in the sparkling practice facility behind the WVU Coliseum was on the rise. He's also mentioned a tendency for some players to “hunt shots” or try to “get theirs”, when the score gets lopsided – a habit that absolutely must get nipped in the bud. Firing up an ill-advised shot with a 28-point lead against EKU is one thing – doing so with a one-point advantage against Kansas is another. That also led to an emphasis team play – a theme which Huggins again brought up after WVU's most recent win.
“A year ago, the thing that made us who we are is that we were so unselfish,” he said while dropping approval on Jaysean Paige's shot selection after halftime. “Everyone was in it for the good of the whole, and Jaysean was certainly a large part of that.”
Obviously Huggins likes the way in which Paige, and some others, are at least attempting to share the ball, run the offense and getting their work in, but it's just as clear that there are others that he wants to see improve in those areas. It would be unfair to name possible suspects, as they would be cast with the brush of suspicion absent any confirmation. But suffice it to say that Huggins does want to stamp out these small problems before they have the chance to grow into something bigger.
Of course, some of those issues may be entirely due to the scores of some of these games. WVU has been in complete control of many of its non-conference affairs, and it can be tough to keep running motion or through sets when the scoreboard is leaning heavily in the Mountaineers' direction. However, that's just when the best discipline is laid in place, and if West Virginia can get everyone, and not just a few, players on board with that, it could have a chance to equal or even surpass last year's considerable accomplishments. We'll know when Huggins considers it corrected – it will be confirmed by the lack of those mentions during interview sessions.