Making Progress

Preseason preparations continue inside the WVU Coliseum for Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers.

On one hand, WVU head coach Bob Huggins feels that his team has accomplished a whole lot in the first ten days or so of preseason basketball practice. With a host of veterans returning, Huggins and his coaching staff are far ahead of where they were this time last year when they had to start from scratch with every player on the roster.

"I think we're way ahead," Huggins admitted. "Our (older) guys have really done a great job of trying to help the young guys. (The rookies) are still lost, but they've got an idea. If we played today, we could put them in the game. A year ago, I don't think we could put anybody in the game at this time. I think we are ahead."

On the other hand, there is still a lot of ground left to cover between now and the time the Mountaineers take the court for the season opener against Elon on November 15.

"We're not near to where we were defensively at the start of last season," Huggins observed. "We haven't spent a lot of time on zone offense and we haven't spent a lot of time on press breaker. We haven't spent time on out of bounds plays or special situations or those kinds of things that we've got to get to."

For the most part, West Virginia's veterans know what to expect from Huggins. Players such as Alex Ruoff, Da'Sean Butler and Joe Mazzulla have been through a season's-worth of wars with the legendary head coach, thus they can draw from their experiences to help the young newcomers along in preseason work.

The experiences of the veterans, though, can only go so far in getting the talented but young quartet of Devin Ebanks, Darryl Bryant, Kevin Jones and Dee Proby ready for the rigors of a long season. And while Huggins is happy with the crispness of his veterans thus far, he admits that he will have to have patience with his first-year players as they try to get a grasp on what he expects them to do.

"It's hard," he explained. "There are a lot of things, you know? We try to teach whole parts and show them what we're doing, and then we try to break it down and when you break it down they kind of understand it. Then, when you go back and try to add more things to it, they get lost like most young guys do. They're getting better. They're getting better all the time."

Unlike last season, the Mountaineers won't be able to work out the kinks against a soft non-conference schedule before entering Big East play. West Virginia will play Iowa and either Kentucky or Kansas State in the Las Vegas Invitational over Thanksgiving weekend. The Mountaineers also have a neutral court game with Davidson at the Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden.

Nonconference visits to the likes of Ole Miss and Ohio State also appear on West Virginia's schedule, thus Huggins's sense of urgency in getting the youngsters acclimated to the system.

"We're trying to be ahead of where we were a year ago, and we're going to have to be because our schedule is so much better," he said. "We're not playing the schedule that we played a year ago so we're going to have to have more things and we're going to have to be prepared for more things. We're going to see zone early, people are going to press us early. There are a lot of things to put in.

"You don't want to try to put everything in and then not to anything right either," he continued. "We're trying to put things in but still make sure we understand what we're doing."

The biggest hurdle left to clear is on the defensive end of the court. Naturally, first-year players are a little bit behind on that end simply because it is not as emphasized in the prep ranks as it is in college, particularly under a perfectionist like Huggins. The head coach has been pleased with the defensive progress he's seen in the past week.

"We're getting better," he said. "All of those guys were scorers. They were all scorers. You wouldn't be a very good high school coach if you got your best scorer in foul trouble every game."

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One player who is getting closer to contributing is sophomore guard Will Thomas. As a freshman, Thomas appeared in 13 games for the Mountaineers, but was still recovering from a broken leg suffered during his senior year of high school.

"I just think he lost his athleticism a year ago," Huggins said. "He still doesn't have it all back, but if you saw the dunk contest you could see that he was getting back over the rim. He's playing above the rim like he did in high school. He's still not back to where he was, but he's gotten a lot better. He's gotten a lot stronger. He's really done a good job in the weight room."

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West Virginia's November 8 exhibition game against Mountain State University will tip at 1:00 PM, school officials announced Monday. The athletic department was awaiting word from ESPN about the kickoff time for the WVU-Cincinnati football game of the same day. The football game will kick at 7:00 and be televised by ESPNU.


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