This Friday, Bob Huggins and the West Virginia basketball team will open up practice for the 2019-20 season. It’s a new year with a fresh start and a new energy surrounding the program. Even with all the excitement, Huggins says he tries to keep a consistent approach to the game. “After 43 years it all runs together. Am I going to be all excited and gitty? No, but I don’t know if I ever was really. I don’t get too high, I don’t get too low. I get low, but I generally don’t let them see me do it.”
This year’s group has a nice mix of returning players and newcomers, although the team is still extremely young. Huggins talked extensively on how the newcomers will be expected to impact the game and how they will be used in the upcoming season.
Starting with Arkansas transfer Gabe Osabuohien, the main question for him right now is eligibility. Per NCAA rules, it would usually mean that Osabuohien would be required to sit out this season, but Coach Huggins seems to believe there’s a chance he can get cleared. “Honestly, I think if you have any reason whatsoever, seemingly you get a waiver. Unless there’s strong opposition to it, I think they want to help people achieve their goals instead of holding them back which they were accused of before.” If Osabuohien is cleared that will give Huggins four bigs that he can rotate and give them great depth in the front court. “He plays really really hard. That’s the thing looking at him on film is that he plays really hard. He’s a big who can bounce it, which is I think a great weapon to have. He’s a guy that can catch it and drive it and draw fouls. He’s strong, he’s aggressive. For an extended period of time he can guard on the perimeter better than any big we have,” Huggins said of Osabuohien.
The latest addition to the team is 6’7” small forward Jalen Bridges of Fairmont, WV. Bridges was originally a member of the 2020 recruiting class, but reclassified to the 2019 class and enrolled at WVU following his visit. He chose West Virginia over Alabama, Indiana, Miami and Xavier.
Although Bridges decided to enroll this year, he will not be seeing any action on the floor. “He wanted to redshirt. That was the plan that they had mapped out and I was fine with it. I think that’s a great idea for him,” Huggins said. “You got to like his length and his ability to play on the perimeter. He gets better and better everyday as he gets more and more comfortable. I think he’s going to be a really good player,” Huggins added. Only being 17 years old and coming into the fold late is a lot to handle. This is a similar situation to Lamont West when he arrived to Morgantown. Bridges has an enormous amount of potential, but it will be a year before he can unleash it.
One of the most prized recruits in WVU basketball history is center Oscar Tshiebwe of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was widely recognized as one of the nations best rebounders at the high school level a year ago and was named a McDonald’s All-American. He is the highest rated recruit that has come into the West Virginia program, but coach Huggins says he is grounded and humbled. “He’s talented. You just watch him run up and down and watch him rebound the ball. He’s shooting it pretty good, it’s just hard when you don’t know what you’re doing,” Huggins stated.
Like Osabuohien, Tshiebwe is waiting for eligibility as well, but not for the season, just the teams trip to Cancun. Tshiebwe was unable to participate in the teams trip to Spain because of a visa issue. The team hopes to hear something on the situation soon so he can make the trip for the Cancun Challenge. As for the rest of the season, expect him to be snatching balls off the glass with fellow big Derek Culver. Tshiebwe hasn’t been able to get a lot of time with the team yet, so with practice opening Friday, we should get a better feel of where he’s at in the next few weeks.
As for the final incoming freshman, we have Miles “Deuce” McBride from Cincinnati, Ohio. Huggins has been really pleased with his effort and how quickly he’s catching on to things. “Miles is playing great. If we were going to play today, Deuce would see a lot of playing time. He’s gotten stronger, he’s making shots and he defends.” With McCabe, Harler, Haley and Knapper, it would seem like a crowded backcourt but it appears that McBride could be challenging for a starting spot.
Lastly, the Mountaineers added two junior college guards in Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman. McNeil has missed some time due to illness and has lost some significant weight, but is making his way back. “We look at Sean as an elite shooter. Every time he shoots it, it looks like it’s going in and when it doesn’t you’re looking at him like what’s wrong?” Huggins said. As for Sherman, the dude can really stroke it as well according to Huggins, “As of today, he is our most consistent shot maker and he can make hard shots. He’s a versatile scorer, in junior college they would even put him down at the post some. He’s getting stronger and stronger. He’s 185 lbs right now and I think he came in at 170.” Sherman has that Tarik Phillip toughness to him, but is a much better athlete and offensive threat than Phillip. Keep an eye on Sherman to be in contention for the Big 12 Conference sixth man of the year.
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