Great Expectations

For only the third time in program history, the WVU basketball team will all but certainly be ranked in the major preseason polls when they are released in the coming weeks. The squad's head coach begins the task of trying to forge a team worthy of those expectations when practice begins with Friday night's Mountaineer Madness at the Coliseum.

"I hope they're right," said Bob Huggins of the preseason prognostications, several of which have his WVU team ranked in the top ten nationally. "That's what we've been working for."

"That's what we want to do. We want to be ranked every year. If we're not, we've had some bad recruiting years."

That certainly isn't the case going into the 2009-10 season, as a much-hyped group of freshmen gets set to begin suiting up in a West Virginia uniform.

Those players have had the chance to learn some of what Huggins expects during small group workouts in the past few weeks. Both the mental and physical rigors of playing at the top level of college basketball have been covered in those sessions.

"We've been trying to get them ready," the third-year head coach said. "We've been going straight two hours once a week, instead of breaking it up and going a half hour four times a week or an hour twice a week."

"It's just so the younger guys can kind of get used to going for two hours. I think they've got an idea (of what to expect). It's probably not a real good idea yet, but they've got an idea."

Some of those freshmen will likely be counted upon to make an immediate impact, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

While Huggins' teams are historically known for playing an intense man-to-man defense that gives opponents fits, his 2008-09 WVU team struggled at times to put points on the board. He believes that some of those issues won't be reoccurring this year.

"I think we'll be able to score it this year," Huggins said. "When we scored 70 points (last season), we didn't lose. That's kind of what I told them. We've got to do a better job of scoring the ball than we did a year ago. If we defend the way we defended a year ago, we'll be fine."

Helping that offensive progression along is the fact that forward Devin Ebanks and guard Truck Bryant both have a full year worth of experience under their belt. The two talents both came on strong at the end of last season, and their coach sees no reason why that momentum can't carry over.

"When you have to think and try to play at the same time, it's really hard," Huggins said. "When guys initially come in, they're thinking about what they're supposed to do. They're not doing it, they're thinking about it. You just don't play as well. You don't shoot the ball as well."

"With the experience that these guys got -- I mean, Devin is really more than a sophomore if you look at the minutes he played compared to other freshmen -- we're going to be better because they can just play. They're not going to be out there saying, ‘What does Huggs want me to do?' They know."

With the departure of graduated senior Alex Ruoff, junior college transfer Casey Mitchell will likely be expected to shoulder a considerable load as a shooting guard. While the highly-touted Mitchell is a talent who comes in as a junior in terms of eligibility, Huggins said that he still sees some rookie mistakes from the 6-foot-4, 225-pound guard.

"I think there's going to be days when people walk out of here and say, ‘He's the best scoring guard (at WVU) since Wil Robinson,'" the head coach said. "And then there's going to be days when they walk out of here and say, ‘What the hell did they recruit him for?'"

"That's just what happens when you have new guys. For whatever anybody wants to say, it's a heck of a step from Chipola (College, where Mitchell played in junior college) to playing in the Big East. He's going to experience growing pains like anybody does."

Helping Huggins and company will be the physical transformations some players have made through offseason strength and conditioning work with coach Andy Kettler.

Kevin Jones has gained around 35 pounds from when he arrived in Morgantown last year as a freshman and now is a more physical presence at 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds. Ebanks has tacked on somewhere between 10 and 15 pounds, adding strength to what was a wiry 6-foot-9 frame a season ago.

"We've been kind of outmatched physically the past couple of years. I think that's getting ready to change," Huggins said, pointing to the front line of arch-rival Pittsburgh and how it outmuscled foes in recent years. "We're going to be like that now."

NOTES:

  • Concerning the eligibility status of freshman Deniz Kilicli, Huggins said he had no updates beyond what was previously known.

    The native of Turkey had previously played on a team that had a player who was being paid, which makes the team a "professional" outfit in the eyes of the NCAA. The rule states that Kilicli and all other players on that team would have to then sit out the same number of games as they played in with that team before being ruled eligible.

    That number has been placed somewhere in the 20s, meaning that Kilicli would not become eligible until sometime in January or February. Huggins said that redshirting the freshman would not make the punishment go away; that he would still have to sit out the same number of games the next season if he were to be redshirted this year.

  • While the long-sought basketball practice facility is still not yet a reality, the Mountaineers' head coach said that he sees real progress in that area and believes that the project is moving forward.

    "(Athletic Director) Eddie (Pastilong) and (Associate Athletic Director for Finance and Administration) Russ (Sharp) continue to meet on it," Huggins said. "We've got the (architectural) drawings. It goes out to bid here soon. As soon as the bids come in, I think they'll be ready to go (with construction)."

  • Mountaineer Madness begins at the Coliseum at 8:30 p.m. An autograph session will be held in the concourse area of the building beforehand, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Players from both the men's and women's teams will be available at the Green and Gold gates of the facility.

    Other highlights will include a slam dunk contest, scrimmages for each team, a free throw contest featuring former WVU players and the unveiling of a new uniform for the men's basketball team.


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