In recent years the off-seasons with the West Virginia basketball program have been interesting to say the least with a number of players packing up their bags and transferring out of the program. And that has clearly been the case this year as well.
But Saturday morning head coach Bob Huggins tackled the issue and focused on the widespread problem that it's become across the college basketball landscape.
Already this off-season former starters Eron Harris has been granted his release and Terry Henderson has requested one, while Huggins also informed the media that the number of departures could increase with Remi Dibo informing the assistant coaches that his plan is to leave the program and pursue a professional career in his native France.
Out of the two players that do intend to transfer Huggins said that one of them caught him totally off guard and while he wouldn't get into personal details he did say that there are a lot of other people in player's lives outside of their head basketball coach.
Huggins clarified the total number of players that have signed with the Mountaineers since the trip to the Final Four has been 23 not the reported 16, and out of that group 12 of them have left the program for a variety of reasons.
"Three of those guys never suited up. Two medicals and one guy that had a language problem and never passed the test and never showed up on campus. Now you start throwing those numbers in it and it makes it look a whole lot different than what it actually is."
"One that graduated and one left on a medical and was granted immediate eligibility to be with his father who was in failing health. I can't do anything about that. I don't mind taking blame but blame me for things I can control," he added.
And because some of those players never suited up for West Virginia, Huggins said it is misleading to say that the Mountaineers lost them because they never had them to begin with.
"How can you lose what you never had?" he asked.
As a total, Huggins said that 40-percent of men's basketball players do not make it to their junior season and many of those players elect to transfer down and not play in a conference of the same stature of the one that they're departing. And thus far with the exits from the West Virginia program only one of those players have moved on to a power-conference school with Keaton Miles transferring to Arkansas.
Huggins, a transfer himself during his college career, understands that a variety of reasons go into players electing to attend another school but addressed the concern over some of the key cogs to last season's team electing to leave Morgantown. Huggins referenced players leaving Ivy League programs and high profile academic schools such as Duke, along with former high school All-Americans all leaving their respective programs to look for new opportunities.
"The reality is kids are transferring. They are transferring everywhere. OK, I understand we lose a couple guys that have scored some points. Texas Tech lost their second and third leading scorer. It happens everywhere," he said. "I'm not for it or saying it's OK but what I am saying is it's not just here. It's kind of the times."
Huggins believes it's not a reflection on the type of players they are bringing into the program or a breakdown between the coaches and the players because the staff works to form a relationship with the players on the roster. In fact, the coaches have sat and attempted to figure out what else they could do to try and prevent some of the annual turnover.
"We are limited in the contact we can have. We try to do as many things as we possibly can. You never heard any of those guys say they hadn't had a relationship with the coaching staff because they have," he said. "Now we're going to try to do more and figure out how to do more and fix the problems or the perceived problems. We'll do the best we possibly can."
As for his current team, Huggins said that both Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon are both eligible and have done well academically since they arrived on campus. The Mountaineers also return their entire freshman class from a season ago, All-Big 12 point guard Juwan Staten and stalwarts Gary Browne and Kevin Noreen. The program also will add three players this season in guards Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles and Tarik Phillip.
The head coach also spoke about the excitement of the players currently in the program and the addition of the longer players will allow the Mountaineers to revert back to the way they used to play with switching screens and causing trouble with that length.
"I think we're going to be fine, I really do," he said.
Specifically both Macon and Holton will be able to rebound the basketball, something that West Virginia struggled to consistently do a season ago.
Since what Huggins refers to as an "epidemic," as unfolded in the past couple of days, the head coach has received countless text messages from his former players offering their support. And while some have pinpointed his hard-nosed coaching style as a potential reason for the exits, Huggins shared the thoughts of some of his former players that have visited the program in recent years.
"I can tell you every former guy that comes back says this, 'Why are you being so soft? Why have you changed so much?'" he said.
Overall, Huggins said that he has been in the post-season six of the seven years he has been atop the West Virginia basketball program and in order to find a more successful run you'd have to go back to the days from Fred Schaus. And when asked about the perceived downtrend in recent recruiting the head coach responded with, "If I'm recruiting that bad then I'm doing a heck of a job coaching."
Another question referenced how many of the players were actually his recruits on the team that went to the Final Four and he responded with three starters and then dismissed the purpose of the question altogether.
"The last time I checked it says West Virginia University on your chest. It doesn't say Bob Huggins; it says West Virginia University and those guys choose to represent West Virginia University," he said.
"Nobody loves West Virginia University more than I do and when the time comes when I don't think I can do my job and the best job for this university I'll quit. I'm not going to hang on, I'm not going to hang on and not do the right thing," he added.
Huggins said he has not been able to address the team as a whole due to them being on break but has spoken to several individuals about the situation.
"We're going to be fine, we are fine. I'm excited about the year and what we're doing," he said.
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