MORGANTOWN - The bottom line on West Virginia's just-completed - and mercifully concluded - basketball season is this: A team with more talent than its predecessor struggled to a far-less satisfying conclusion.All right, so maybe these Mountaineers weren't all that gifted. We're not talking McDonald's All-Americans, right?But consider this year's cast in relation to last year's.Certainly from a pure talent aspect, Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne win over a one-armed Joe Mazzulla at point guard.Kevin Jones v. 2012 wins in a landslide over Kevin Jones v. 2011.John Flowers was missed terribly, but think back to the Flowers that Bob Huggins inherited as a freshman. Don't tell me you wouldn't take Keaton Miles over that guy.Cam Thoroughman versus, well, just about any big man on this year's roster? Remember, we're talking talent here, not intangibles.
At only one position can it be argued that last year's team was truly more talented than this year's. At shooting guard Casey Mitchell made just under 38 percent of his 3-pointers. But he was also prone to disappear or be suspended. Let's not prop him up as a bastion of stability.
What, then, was the difference? Well, youth can be blamed to a large extent, but young teams win all the time, right?Perhaps it just wasn't the right type of talent."We have the talent. We just don't have the talent ... we're not Kentucky. We don't have that talent,'' junior center and resident philosopher Deniz Kilicli said. "So our chance to win games is to just play so hard that you just make the other team quit. And that's what we've done the whole time since I've been playing here. That's what we did.''Notice Kilicli's use of past tense. English isn't the guy's first language, but he's got a pretty decent grasp of it for the most part. His use of tense in this case was spot on.
"People just got tired of getting hit. People just got tired of running around and chasing us,'' Kilicli said, referring to earlier WVU teams he played on that won 52 games and were a combined 5-2 in NCAA tournament play. "We were quicker than anybody. We had more stamina than anybody else. We were tougher. We were more physical. That's how it was.''Again, past tense.Granted, those previous teams weren't always less talented. A couple of NBA draft choices, Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks, were a huge part of the 2010 team.
But the notion of which Kilicli speaks probably is still valid. Huggins has somehow coaxed all five of his West Virginia teams into the NCAA tournament without anything approaching the type of talent that makes recruitniks woozy. He doesn't do it with smoke and mirrors, but with grit and determination, the very attributes that made guys like Mazzulla and Thoroughman successful despite their physical limitations."We weren't better shooters or we weren't better passers. But this is the thing: We have more talent than we had last year, but we couldn't win as much because we weren't as tough,'' Kilicli said. "Next year we've just got to stop all this. Everybody's got to be on the same page and everybody's got to know where they're at.''Kilicli, of course, has to be included in that. So that it doesn't appear that the big Turkish center is just sitting back and pointing fingers, he takes a share of the blame, as well. Yes, he played from late December on with a hip pointer and a couple of sore ankles and lost 12 pounds one week when he got sick, but those are excuses. And he'd rather not make excuses."It's not easy, but it's not that hard, either. You just work hard every day. That's all it is,'' he said. "When you have an injury or something you just say, 'All right, well, I'm just going to take a couple of ibuprofens and I'm going.' That's what [WVU's recent and more successful teams] did and that's what we've got to do.''It should a bit easier next year, not to do what Kilicli professes (that's never easy) but to convince the majority of the roster to buy in. It was difficult this season because there were so few who had gone through it before - Kilicli, Jones and Truck Bryant being it. Next year even the two most promising additions know what it's all about because transfers Juwan Staten and Aaric Murray have spent a year in the program."In the talent department they're going to bring a lot,'' Kilicli said. "Juwan is just the fastest guy I've ever seen, that I've ever played against. And he's really smart. I think he's got great basketball IQ.
"And Aaric Murray has league potential. He can be a lottery pick. He just needs to work and show himself next year. Aaric and Juwan are going to be a duo like Truck and K.J. It's going to be great.''As long as the right mindset is there, too.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.