When West Virginia assistant basketball coach Ron Everhart was sidelined by a back injury and resulting serious surgery, head coach Bob Huggins turned to a person that has been by his side for every step of the Mountaineer journey -- and longer. Josh Eilert, who was Huggins' graduate assistant at Kansas State in 2006-07 before accompanying him to Morgantown, has been WVU's video coordinator for six years and director of basketball operations for three-plus. Now in his tenth year with the Mountaineers, Eilert knows the program inside and out. That made him a logical choice as the sub for Everhart, who continues to recuperate.
Eilert, who hopes to move into the coaching ranks permanently some day, wasn't counting on the elevation, but was confident he could do the job.
"I was hoping he would," said Eilert of the move. "I think Huggs has a high degree of trust in me. As long as we have been together, I've been loyal to him and he has been loyal to me, that moment for me gave me a tremendous amount of confidence. Did I feel rusty getting on the floor? Yeah. I took my time and I eased into it, and I didn't want to be too vocal early, But now I am gaining trust from those guys and I feel good."
"Josh has been great. He's a very bright guy and a very hard working guy.He's done film for me for 11 years, so he knows what's going on," Huggins said. "I think that's a great way to learn the game, to sit in there and cut up all of that film. You're seeing everybody's offense and everybody's defense and how they go about thing. We miss Ronnie, but Josh has filled in more than adequately. Josh is a heck of a coach."
Eilert hasn't been a holler guy on the bench (with Huggins and Billy Hahn, there's not much atmosphere left for that), but he's also becoming more comfortable in sharing an opinion or pointing things out to his fellow assistants or to Huggins himself. During recent home games with Oklahoma and Kansas, Eilert could be seen making points quickly when he felt the situation warranted. He's also been focusing on another area where he believes he can make an impact.
"More than anything I try to pull guys aside, especially our young guys," Eilert explained. "Huggs is dealing more with the starters than some of the younger guys, and if I see an opportunity where I can teach one of them something, I think that's the area where I can be of most value to the team. Sags needs a lot of coaching. Maciej needs a lot of coaching. If I can get to those guys and then they can get in there and help us in crunch time, then that's great."
Helping Eiliert along has been the attitude of the team, which has been welcoming. It's not as if he's a stranger, of course - he's around the team daily and knows them as well as any of the assistants, but there is always the possibility of a different reception when roles change. Had this occurred several years ago, it might have been an issue, but with this team it hasn't casue a bit of consternation.
"It's been good. I know these guys and feel like I have a tremendous relationship with every single one of them. It's a great group of guys," Eilert said, perhaps unconsciously echoing words that Huggins uses to describe the team. "We've had years where some guys didn't respond well or didn't want to be coached, but these guys do. They want to be in there and they want to be coached. It's a great atmosphere.
"It's been special for me. I've been patient in the position I'm in. To get the opportunity on the floor and to mix it up with our guys and to communicate those things I have been seeing on the sidelines is great."