Huggins fixing West Virginia basketball through recruiting
Last season you’d be hard pressed to find an instance of Bob Huggins smiling.
Now, it might be equally as hard to wipe one off his face.
Who can blame him?
After a 15-21 record, the most losses all-time for the West Virginia basketball program, the Mountaineers got to work on reconstructing the roster. It’s an effort that has spanned not only the current class, but future ones as well with Huggins currently on a roll on the recruiting trail.
Since last October, the Mountaineers have reeled in almost every realistic top target on the board.
First up was landing five-star Oscar Tshiebwe, only the second McDonald’s All-American in school history. It wasn’t easy as several schools such as Kentucky and Kansas got involved in the pursuit but ultimately the long-standing bonds Huggins had formed paid off. Huggins had his man.
It was a big deal as Huggins had reeled in only one five-star prospect since arriving in Morgantown in Devin Ebanks and we all can agree he turned out as a pretty good player for the Mountaineers. Tshiebwe played with a motor and toughness that Huggins covets in his big men.
The program then was able to hit on not only one, but both of the identified priority targets in the late period in junior college guards Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman. Both players averaged over 25-points per game last season and fit immediate needs on the roster on the wing.
Under-the-radar addition Miles McBride has already proven that the guard was largely overlooked by scouting services as he was highly impressive on both ends of the floor on the trip to Spain. A tough-nosed perimeter player in the mold of what Huggins wants, McBride is going to see the floor this year.
Even the lone mishap on the recruiting trail in junior college prospect Ethan Richardson not making it into school ended up coming up roses for Huggins as Fairmont product Jalen Bridges elected to bypass a planned year at prep school and enroll in Morgantown this August to start his career.
Bridges, 6-foot-7, saw his recruiting profile rise dramatically over the summer collecting 20-plus scholarships in the process but initially deciding to reclassify to the 2020 class. He had planned five official visits but after a trip to Morgantown saw all he needed to see.
While it’s unclear if he will play or redshirt this season, getting Bridges into school can be looked at as nothing but a positive as he develops for the college level.
It won’t affect this coming year, but the 2020 efforts also are off to a strong start as Huggins was able to land another priority target in Huntington Prep (W.Va.) forward Isaiah Cottrell to the fold. Later, Wildwood Catholic (N.J.) forward Taj Thweatt, another 6-foot-7 versatile forward, committed to the program giving Huggins some positional flexibility down the road to pair with Bridges.
West Virginia currently has one open scholarship to fill in the 2020 class, although if you’ve followed the basketball program for any amount of time you understand that number is subject to change. Still, Huggins is for the most part is keeping his promise of ‘fixing it,’ and in relative short order at that.
We’re already a long way from this.
“And I just told them in there the West Virginia on the front means way, way more to me than their name on the back. We'll get it fixed, it may not be this year but we'll get it fixed I promise you,” he said.
The Mountaineers will likely target guards and perhaps another big to round out the class and efforts have even started on the 2021 cycle with the pledge of guard Seth Wilson, a fast-rising prospect in his classification.
While the sting of 21 losses remains, Huggins is doing his best to make sure moments like that are a distant memory when it comes to the Mountaineers basketball program.
That means even cracking a smile now and again, too.
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