MORGANTOWN — Perhaps never during his more than 30 years courtside has Bob Huggins faced more wrath than today.
Oh, he has his supporters. Plenty of them. Many are his former players, now spread far and wide, tweeting or texting or calling. Closer to home, he has support, too, although perhaps not quite as broad as during the bulk of his career or even his time back home at West Virginia.
But after yet another exodus from his basketball program — officially the departure of Eron Harris and now Terry Henderson makes 11 who have actually played before going elsewhere over the last four seasons — Huggins is the object of scorn from at least a segment of his team’s fan base.
The loudest want him to resign, something unthinkable just a few years ago after he’d returned home as something akin to a hero and led his alma mater to the Final Four.
And make no mistake, Huggins hears the calls, perhaps not directly but in some form or fashion. And to say it irritates him would be an understatement.
“Nobody loves West Virginia University more than I do,’’ Huggins said Saturday at a rather impromptu press conference called because so many were calling him. “And when the time comes that I don’t think that I can do my job and do the best job I can possibly do for this university, I’ll quit.’’
That time has not come.
Of course, not everyone agrees.
With the transfer of Henderson on Saturday, the topic came to a boil. That’s two of the top three scorers from last year’s team — both with two years of eligibility remaining — who will go elsewhere. A year ago there were five, including starting guard Jabarie Hinds and big man Aaric Murray.
We won’t go into why they all left because there are probably 11 different reasons. And not all wanted to leave, to be quite frank, although most did so of their own accord.
Huggins’ primary disagreement with those who would have him drawn and quartered for losing players is fairly simple: All programs are losing them. And to a large degree he is correct. There were more than 500 players who transferred from Division I programs a year ago, and there will be another 500 this spring and summer, if not more.
It’s just the culture.
“The reality is that kids are transferring,’’ Huggins said. “It’s not just here, it’s everywhere. … Guys are transferring from Ivy League schools, from Duke, from everywhere.’’
Huggins pointed out that he was once a transfer himself, having gone from Ohio University to WVU more than 40 years ago. He was quite blunt about the reason, too, saying that there was someone ahead of him at OU, and he didn’t think he would play for a while. So he went somewhere he could play.
And some of Huggins’ transfers have been in similar boats, leaving when they saw the handwriting on the wall. Huggins privately admits that yes, in some of those instances, he and his staff simply made recruiting mistakes and shouldn’t have taken some of those who languished before leaving.
But the WVU transfers who have created the largest voids are those who did not leave for more playing time. Harris certainly did not. Henderson was primed to absorb the minutes vacated by Harris, so he didn’t, either. Last year it was a couple of other starters in Hinds and Murray, although it can be argued that in at least the case of Murray, leaving wasn’t exactly his choice and he was given no option.
And soon the list seems likely to grow longer. Huggins did not flat out say it, but the chances of Remi Dibo being back for his final year seem remote. Out of Division I options, though, he’s told the assistant coaches — not Huggins — that he’ll likely go back to France and play professionally.
Huggins complained vociferously Saturday about those who cite warped figures about the number of his recruits since the Final Four who are no longer in the program. Some insist it is 12 of 18 or even more, while Huggins says the number of recruits is 23. He’s closer to being right than wrong.
Here, though, we don’t cite those numbers, but instead the more concrete and inarguable. Dibo would be the 12th transfer in the last four years who had actually donned the uniform and played. That’s alarming, yes, but in fairness to Huggins, let’s point out two things.
First, five of those came in one unusual off-season last year when he attempted to right wrongs and correct the roster. Few complained about that because after a 13-19 season, any changes were seen as positives. In the other three years, the average of transfers is now at two per year, which is more than any national average would be, but not all that significant considering the current culture.
And that’s the second thing — the culture.
“We live in different times,’’ Huggins said. “We live in times when if you don’t play for one AAU team, you leave and play for another.
“It’s not the kind of kids we’re recruiting. It’s what kids are today.’’
On the plus side, Huggins pointed out that if anyone is worried about his team’s backcourt, well, it will feature potentially the Big 12 preseason player of the year in Juwan Staten and one of four others from among Gary Browne and three incoming recruits. And with Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon and Co., Huggins was “going back to what we do.’’
That won’t, of course, satisfy those who call for his head unless it works. And to find that out, you’re just going to have to wait because Huggins isn’t going anywhere. He’s not because it’s not time for him to do so.
“I’m not going to hang on. I’m not going to hang on and not do the right thing,’’ Huggins said. “I love this university. I love the people in this state. I’d venture to say there isn’t anybody in this state that goes more places, contacts more people, has more interaction with our people than I do.’’
Usually, though, he gets a warmer reception than the one he’s getting now.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1