Royal Reunion

A pair of North-Central West Virginia natives will be patrolling the sidelines of the WVU Coliseum on Saturday night. Morgantown native and Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins will lead his 6-1 squad against Fairmont native and Duquesne mentor Ron Everhart.

While it will be the first time the two coaches have faced each other in their respective jobs, it certainly will not be the first time they've gotten together inside the Coliseum. Back when Huggins was a player for the Mountaineers under former head coach Joedy Gardner, a young Everhart would hitchhike his way up the road from the Friendly City to watch Huggins and company practice.

"He'd come over here, and I'd shoot for forever and he would rebound for me. Ronnie's a great guy," Huggins said Friday. "When he couldn't find a ride home, he'd stay with me."

And thus the friendship began. Of course when Everhart brings his band of Dukes to Morgantown on Saturday night, breaking bread with Huggins will be the last thing on his mind. After a 10-19 adversity-riddled season in his first year at Duquesne, the former Northeastern head coach has his team soaring sky-high with confidence, even on the heels of consecutive losses to Drake and highly-rated Pitt.

The Dukes currently sit at 6-2, and boast perhaps the nation's finest shot blocker in senior center Shawn James, a Northeastern transfer who followed Everhart's promotion to the Atlantic 10. James has 42 blocks through the season's first eight games, including a jaw-dropping 12 in a win over Oakland. Add to the fact that the 6'10" NBA prospect has improved his offensive game to nearly 14 points per contest, and one could argue that West Virginia faces its biggest post challenge to date on Saturday.

"I saw him two years ago, and he wasn't nearly as polished offensively as what he is today," Huggins noted. "They threw it to him close against Pitt, and he did a good job scoring the ball."

James is just one of many offensive threats for the Dukes as seven additional Duquesne players average at least eight points per game. Junior guard Kojo Mensah leads the way with an average of 15.4. Offensively, the Dukes might do some things that have Mountaineer fans reminiscing of years past.

"They're running a variation of the Princeton stuff, and they do it pretty well," Huggins noted. "He's got good players. When you have good players, you can run a lot of things and they work."

Defensively, expect Duquesne to press early and often. Everhart's teams wherever he has coached have always pressured the opposition up and down the court, and this squad is no different. The Dukes have forced an average of more than 20 turnovers per game this season while collecting 86 steals.

Earlier in the year during the Legends Classic, West Virginia faced a pressure-heavy foe in Tennessee. In that game, the Volunteers routinely tried to interrupt the in-bounds pass by trapping and harassing those trying to receive the ball. After Huggins and the Mountaineers solved that, UT head coach Bruce Pearl opted to lay back in a rugged half-court man-to-man. Though the teams are somewhat similar in that they use pressure after made shots, Huggins expects the Dukes to be both more diverse and more persistent than the Volunteers.

"They're a little bit like Tennessee only I think they'll stick with the pressure longer," he said. "We kind of alleviated a lot of (Tennessee's) full-court pressure by attacking it and scoring, so they kind of got out of it. I don't think Duquesne is ever going to get out of it.

"They do a lot of different things," he continued. "Instead of getting out of pressure, they just change pressure so that they're not coming at you in the same way all the time."

With so much pressing, its no wonder that games involving Everhart's team are often played at a frantic pace. To keep up with that pace, the Fairmont native substitutes players in and out of the lineup in revolving door fashion. In the past, the Dukes have even run five in and five out at one time, almost like a line change in hockey. While the Mountaineers will prepare somewhat for that, Huggins doesn't anticipate many wholesale subs by his old friend on Saturday night.

"He's going to play his best players," said Huggins. "They're going to sub because they play at such a frantic pace and guys get tired, but I don't think we'll see the full-scale substitutions. I think he did that to get guys experience, which I think is smart. He got more guys in the game and got them ready to play."

The last time Everhart came to the Coliseum, it was as head coach of the Northeastern Huskies. On that night, the Fairmont native left Morgantown with a win. Saturday night, Huggins hopes to prevent a similarly successful homecoming, no offense to his friend.

"Once they throw it up, we're both trying to win."

BlueGoldNews Top Stories