MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - And so the exodus has begun.Maybe it's ended, too. Who knows?If Bob Huggins does, he's not saying."You never say never,'' the West Virginia basketball coach said Monday. "But if somebody else is leaving I don't know about it now.''
In what was certainly a welcome relief to both fans and sportswriters alike - but particularly sportswriters - Huggins managed to tie a neat little bow around what was otherwise certain to be a drawn-out and speculative mess regarding his West Virginia basketball roster. In one fell swoop on Monday, he had the school's public relations machine announce that three players have been given their release and will transfer.Jabarie Hinds. GoneAaron Brown. Gone.Volodymyr Gerun. Gone.Sure, the speculation will remain about others, but it sure is nice to have the first wave of questions answered.Those questions, of course, centered on how Huggins would necessarily remake a team that he didn't like. He'd already recruited four new players for next season and was losing just three. Now, instead of being one over the scholarship limit of 13, he's two under it.Let the recruiting begin.It's not that the three who are leaving were bad eggs. Actually, quite the contrary."All three of them are great kids,'' Huggins said. "I've said that from the beginning.''Great kids, maybe, but for whatever reason they just didn't fit. The departures of Brown and Gerun are not unexpected at all. Neither played the kind of minutes they would have liked.Hinds is a different case. Highly touted when he arrived from New York, he started virtually every game during his two-year stay until late this past season. But for whatever reason, he always seemed a little out of control for a point guard and far too inconsistent with his shot for a shooting guard.
He, unlike the other two, seems destined to find another home at a Division I school. And he'll help someone. He just wasn't the right fit here.So now it's Huggins' turn to find a few more players who do fit. To say that there is work to be done is an understatement.Huggins talked several times this season about having recruited a team to compete in the muscular Big East and having to throw them out there into the Big 12. But the fact is, this was probably not a team that was going to fare particularly well no matter where it ended up playing.The bottom line is that the failures of this team of late have had far less to do with conference affiliation than with recruiting ills. Consider that since playing in the national semifinals in April of 2010, West Virginia has gone just 53-45 in all games. The Mountaineers are just 26-28 in conference games (Big East and Big 12) and only 32-40 in games against teams from power conferences (including conference games and postseason tournaments).That's not a problem of conference affiliation. It's not a product of poor coaching, either. The only two active coaches with more wins than Huggins are already in the Hall of Fame - Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim. Huggins hasn't suddenly forgotten how to coach.Nor has he forgotten how to recruit. In the quarter century before he arrived, not a single Mountaineer enjoyed even so much as a cup of coffee in the NBA. Since he arrived he's recruited two - Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones - who have done at least that and took a third, Joe Alexander, who was ready to transfer out of John Beilein's program and turned him into a lottery pick.
But he has to do a better job than he's done of late and he has to have better luck. Of the seven players he signed prior to the 2011-12 season - that was just last season, remember - only two remain, Gary Browne and Keaton Miles. Of the six who suited up for the first time this season, two (Gerun and senior Matt Humphrey) are already gone. And of the players who were recruited before those last two classes, the only one still on the roster is Kevin Noreen.It's one thing to have quick roster shake-ups these days with players leaving early for the NBA, but that's obviously not the case here. In addition to all those who have transferred out, there were the ones who never suited up for whatever reason (Noah Cottrill, David Nyarsuk, Darrious Curry).Some can be blamed on factors that were out of Huggins' control. Some were just poor fits, either from the player's or the program's point of view. Some were just recruiting mistakes.Now Huggins has an opportunity to fill the gaps. How he will do that, he's not saying."I honestly don't know,'' he said. "Obviously, we need help in a lot of places. But I'm not going to bring kids in just to fill spots.''Unsaid there is that he's tried that avenue before. That's been especially true the last two seasons, when 13 players signed letters of intent because a depleted roster dictated it be done."If I bring someone in now, it's going to be because he can play and he can help us,'' Huggins said.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.