West Virginia men’s basketball is looking to bounce back from the school’s first losing season since 2018-19, and trying to make headway in one of the toughest conferences in the sport is no easy task.
Big 12 Conference schools have won the last two men’s tournaments with Bill Self leading Kansas to a title last season, and Scott Drew guiding Baylor in 2021.
Bob Huggins, who was recently inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, will lead a team of three seniors and a handful of guys who are going into their fifth year. Huggins knows the difficult task at hand, competing against some of the top coaches in the game.
“Some of them are harder than others. I think the atmosphere they have at Kansas is harder to play. And a lot of places, when you put that many people in an old building, the people are very vocal. That makes it, I think, a little bit more difficult,” Huggins told Fox News Digital in a recent interview.
“Communication certainly becomes a whole lot more difficult, but, I mean, we got a great league, we’ve got great coaches, everybody gets along. We don’t have issues. The players love playing in the league. We’ve had success with, I think, a large multitude of guys going on to play professionally and make that their career. So, I don’t have much to complain about.”
Huggins looked to the transfer portal to recruit guys with experience and add depth to the roster.
“We have players every year who, particularly with the portal now, look to transfer. And we’ve done the same thing. We’ve gone in the portal, we’ve gotten guys in the portal that we really like, that we think (are) going to be really good,” Huggins said. “We’ve just had some injuries that as soon as we get the injuries taken care of, I think we’re going to be very good because of those guys.”
The legendary head coach admitted he didn’t exactly like the transfer portal at first and said he felt for the more than 400 prospective Division I basketball players who haven’t found a landing spot.
“I didn’t like it at all. I think the bad thing is there’s about 460 kids left in the portal, so there’s 460 kids that don’t have a place to go. I think that needs (to be) fixed somehow. I don’t know how you fix it, but I think somehow we’ve got to do something about that. [There’s a] good 460 kids think that they’re going to leave where they are and go somewhere else better, bigger or whatever, and it doesn’t happen for them,” Huggins said.
“And now, all of a sudden, they’re sitting there, and they – I think in a lot of cases – end up going to schools where there’s no scholarships for them, where they’re either a walk-on at that school, or they go to a (Division III) school that doesn’t offer scholarships. And that’s certainly not what they intended to be when they entered the portal.”
The Mountaineers finished 16-17 overall and 4-14 in the Big 12 Conference last season. Kedrian Johnson, who started 30 games for West Virginia last season, is among those returning. West Virginia’s regular season tips off on Nov. 7 at home against Mount St. Mary’s.
Huggins took over as the Mountaineers’ head coach at the start of the 2007-08 season. He’s led West Virginia to 10 NCAA Tournament appearances and one Final Four.
One player he coached is about to take over the reins for the NBA’s Boston Celtics while Ime Udoka is suspended for the season.
Joe Mazzulla, who played for West Virginia from 2006-2011, will be running the team for this season. Huggins said Mazzulla called him when he got the job.
“He called me the morning he got the job. We talked and had a good conversation. Joe’s come a long way from a basketball standpoint. He’s come a long way from a personal standpoint. He’s not a kid anymore,” Huggins told Fox News Digital.
“He’s a grown man. He’s a grown man with a family that understands that he’s the breadwinner, and he’s the guy who has to make it all work. So, no what advice am I gonna give him? I mean, if he understands what’s going to happen for him and his family, then the rest of it is up to him.”