Prior to one of the home basketball games, head coach Bob Huggins walked over to athletic director Shane Lyons and that’s when he said it.
“One of two things. You need to fire me for the guys I’ve recruited or pay me for winning with these guys,” Huggins said. “It’s one of the two.”
A joke, but one that holds some truth. In the 11 classes under Huggins since coming back to his alma mater, West Virginia has landed only one five-star recruit (Devin Ebanks) and seven four-star prospects although four of those either never made it to Morgantown or spent little time with the program.
But recruiting isn’t everything and Huggins is a testament to that. Since returning to Morgantown, the Mountaineers have gone to the NCAA Tournament eight times, making one Final Four, an Elite 8 and Four Sweet 16. West Virginia has won 20 or more games seven times in that span.
“We go get guys that we think can be successful in what we do and for the most part they have. I think our guys are more in line with let’s go work,” he said.
Huggins points to senior guard Jevon Carter, who has emerged as one of the premier all-around backcourt players in college basketball as an example.
Carter was lightly recruited out of Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois with scholarship offers from only Akron, Green Bay, Toledo and a number of other mid-major programs. But Huggins scouted him, fell in love and then had all of his assistants do the same and the end result was a scholarship offer and subsequent commitment to the program.
Last season, Carter improved across the board and inserted his name into the NBA Draft only to later withdrawal it. He is expected to be one of the best at his position this season.
Not bad for a three-star prospect, but it’s the recipe that’s worked for Huggins who admits that he hasn’t had the success on the recruiting trail as some of his counterparts. For example, Kentucky had seven players rated above four-stars in the last cycle alone.
“We don’t have those top whatever guys,” Huggins said.
But they do have players.
Huggins mentioned the difficulty of the schedule for West Virginia this season with non-conference games against Kentucky, Texas A&M, Virginia and Pittsburgh as well as a pre-season tournament in Orlando that features some high-major opponents. But that also doesn’t include other schools such as Long Beach State, who Huggins said is picked to win their league and Fordham, an A-10 program.
“I think we’re pretty good, we better be,” he said.
When asked about the ongoing investigation into college basketball and recruiting, Huggins said that he could never find himself in those situations because it would be difficult just to do his job.
“I could never go into practice and have somebody holding something over my head,” he said.
But Huggins also hasn’t dealt with some of the issues that others have.
“I think a lot of that is our culture here,” he said.