MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The story of Bob Huggins’ fifth season as West Virginia’s basketball coach might have been what followed the 2012-13 campaign and not everything that happened within it.
The Mountaineers finished 13-19 and lost in the opening round of their first Big 12 Tournament to a 20-loss Texas Tech team they’d swept in the regular season. It was the worst season of Huggins’ career, but it was followed by a list of changes.
Four players transferred and one was kicked off the team. Huggins had already signed four players before adding two junior college recruits following the departures.
So Huggins knew there was no other way to start his first press conference of the 2013-14 season than by addressing the status of his biggest additions - junior college transfer Jonathan Holton and freshman Elijah Macon.
“It’s killing you, isn’t it?” Huggins said.
Huggins said it’s virtually certain Macon won’t play this season and that Holton is currently eligible to practice, but not eligible to play. Huggins is hopeful to have Holton’s situation resolved by the end of the week.
Macon, the highest-rated recruit in WVU’s class and one the staff has invested a lot of time into through the years, has had trouble qualifying academically and earning approval from the NCAA’s Eligibility Center. He committed to WVU as a freshman at his hometown high school in Columbus, Ohio, but later played at Huntington Prep. He didn’t have the grades to make it to WVU as part of the 2012 class and spent the past year at Brewster (N.H.) Prep.
Huggins said he didn’t know if WVU was trying to push for Macon’s clearance and that he wasn’t sure what he could say without getting in trouble, but that it was probably “moot” because Macon is recovering from wrist surgery and currently can’t run because of a problem with an injury that Huggins hopes isn’t turf toe.
Asked if it was unlikely if Macon would play this season, Huggins said, “I think so, yeah. I think it would be weighted more that way than the other way.”
Like Macon, Holton is enrolled at WVU. He made the Atlantic 10’s all-rookie team for the 2011-12 season, but was kicked out of school after being arrested in March 2012 and charged with two counts of video voyeurism. Holton found his way to Palm Beach State College and led all of junior college in rebounding this past season.
Holton pleaded no contest to one video voyeurism charge in March and had a second charge dropped and agreed to two years of unsupervised probation. He earned his associate degree and enrolled at WVU in August, but still isn’t allowed to participate.
The Mountaineers started practice Monday with no clue if or when the 6-foot-9 Holton will be able to help - and seeing as he averaged 17.5 points and 14.1 rebounds per game while shooting 39.6 from 3-point range at Palm Beach State, he can help.
“This time of the year, I don’t think it makes a whole lot of difference,” Huggins said. “As we get closer, it makes a big difference.”
The Mountaineers had been conducting their individual workouts of late which allow for two hours a week with the team, but Huggins will practice 30 times in the 42 days before the first game.
He’s changing that up, too, based on a conversation he had not long ago with former Arizona and USC Coach Kevin O’Neill.
“He talked about three (days) on, one (day) off,” Huggins said. “We’ve always kind of gone pretty much six (straight) days a week. I thought it’d make you tougher, and I think it has, but you wonder if going three-on, one-off makes you fresher.
“Not physically. Those guys recover pretty fast. I think it’s mentally, and hopefully we’ll be able to concentrate a lot better and stay in things better three-on, one-off. I understand on day five and day six, it gets a little tough toward the end.”
Huggins again conceded the style of play and officiating in the Big 12 overwhelmed last year’s Mountaineers and he vowed to be more attuned to the ways of their new league. Part of that was done through the additions of junior college forward Remi Dibo, who shot better than 41 percent from 3-point range last season at Casper (Wyo.) College, and freshman forwards Nathan Adrian, Brandon Watkins and Devin Williams.
“I think we really tried to make a conscious effort of trying to recruit guys who can make shots,” Huggins said. “Whether they do or not, I don’t know, but they’re very capable of making shots.”
Huggins said junior forward Kevin Noreen and sophomore guards Eron Harris and Terry Henderson will add to the perimeter presence. Harris, Henderson and junior point guards Juwan Staten and Gary Browne will combine to play the three perimeter spots, but Huggins said 6-7 Dibo and 6-9 Adrian, from Morgantown High, could probably play at small forward.
For now, it’s a team without much size.
“We don’t have centers,” Huggins said. “We had a center. It didn’t work out very well.”
That would be Aaric Murray, the talented but troubled 6-foot-10 transfer from La Salle who was dismissed in July and is now at Texas Southern. Huggins was asked if he could still play with one man in the middle and four players around the perimeter.
“Who am I going to put inside?” he said.
That may well leave the Mountaineers with five players outside and none inside.
“I’d say we don’t have much of a choice,” he said.