MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins lowered himself into a chair behind a table of microphones and recording devices Saturday, a press conference hastily called earlier that morning to go over what the West Virginia basketball coach called the “state of the program.”
It is a program that has taken some hits this offseason.
“I’ve had better days,” said the third-winningest coach who will roam the sidelines in the 2014-15 season, “and I will again.”
He started down that particular road in a 50-minute meeting with the media, criticizing the accuracy and the presentation of numbers that reflect the attrition his program has endured through the years and insisting he doesn’t accept what’s happened on the floor the past two years and won’t accept it going forward.
“We’re going to be fine,” Huggins said. “We are fine. I’m excited about the year and what we’re doing.”
The Mountaineers, though, will be doing it without their second-, third- and fifth-leading scorers from the past season, one that ended with a 17-16 record and a loss to Georgetown in the first round of the NIT.
Eron Harris, second on the team with 17.4 points per game last season, announced in March his intention to transfer. Terry Henderson, third on the team with 11.6 points per game, decided last week to transfer. Remi Dibo, fifth on the team with 7.2 points per game, is apparently gone as well.
“Remi told the assistants that he was going to go back to France to play professionally,” Huggins said of the junior college transfer. “My assumption is that’s what he’s going to do. How can we fault him for that? You’re talking about a guy from Paris, France, who wants to go back to France to make a living playing ball.”
Many are willing to fault Huggins, though, if only for the continuation of a trend. Dibo would be the 13th player signed by WVU since the 2010 Final Four to leave or to never play for the program.
Huggins signed 23 players in the 2010-13 recruiting classes.
Twelve of those 13 erstwhile players were signed in the 2010-12 recruiting classes.
There’s a difference between those two statistics — one covers three recruiting classes, one covers those three and a six-person class in the fourth year — and a few reports on Henderson’s exit used the three-year statistic and presented it as the four-year statistic.
That deeply bothered Huggins, who brought Dibo, fellow junior college transfer Jon Holton and freshmen Devin Williams, Nathan Adrian, Brandon Watkins and Elijah Macon to campus in the 2013 class.
“I just wish that sometimes when you throw figures out there you throw out accurate figures,” said Huggins, who singled out one reporter for presenting the three-year statistic as the four-year statistic, even though the report cited the three-year figure.
Huggins took greater offense to the notion what’s happening at WVU with its personnel is unique. He resisted suggestions he wasn’t recruiting properly — “If I’m recruiting that badly, then I’m doing a heck of a job coaching,” he said — and sought to protect those who are now former players by saying they’re merely part of “different times” that contribute to a nationwide trend.
“It’s not the kids we’re bringing in — it’s absolutely not the kids we’re bringing in,” he said. “It happens everywhere. Kids are leaving Ivy League schools. Kids are leaving Duke, the high-profile academic places. They’re leaving everywhere. It’s not the kind of kids we’re bringing in.”
Huggins referenced an NCAA study showing 40 percent of freshmen don’t make it to their junior years at the schools they signed with in high school. Since WVU’s Final Four, seniors Kevin Noreen and Gary Browne are alone among the 11 freshmen who enrolled at WVU to make it to their junior seasons. That doesn’t account for Adrian, Williams, Watkins and Macon, who just finished their first seasons, or Jevon Carter and Dax Miles, who will be freshmen next season.
Huggins also tried to clarify and categorize some of the woes. Without naming players, Huggins mentioned three players from Noreen’s four-player recruiting class in 2010.
“Three of those guys never suited up — never suited up,” he said. “Two (medical situations) and one guy who had a language problem and didn’t pass the test and never showed up on campus. So now you start throwing those numbers in and it makes me look a whole lot different than it is.”
WVU discovered Darrious Curry had a health condition and medically disqualified him. Curry ended up leaving the program and playing elsewhere. Noah Cottrill was suspended before he withdrew from WVU because of personal issues. David Nyarsuk never enrolled — and because of that, he doesn’t count in the tally of 11 freshmen — because he never qualified academically.
A year later, WVU signed six freshmen in a seven-player class. Five of the freshmen transferred after their freshman or sophomore seasons. One was center Pat Forsythe, who Huggins never named, but who was granted immediate eligibility the following season at Akron. Forsythe’s father had a medical condition and Forsythe wanted to be closer to home.
“I can’t do anything about that,” Huggins said. “I don’t mind taking the blame, but blame me for things I can control. Don’t blame me for things I can’t control. If you look at those numbers, they’re not nearly as alarming as it has been portrayed by some people.”
Huggins also highlighted another NCAA statistic saying 38 percent of the aforementioned 40 percent that transfer before they’re juniors don’t transfer to what he called a “higher or like” conference.
“We’ve had one guy who’s transferred who has gone to a so-called whatever you want to call it — a BCS, a high visibility conference,” Huggins said. “The rest have transferred down.”
The exception, forward Keaton Miles, transferred last offseason to Arkansas in the SEC. He was also one of a few former transfers who took to Twitter on Friday after Henderson’s transfer was announced to mock the situation at WVU.
“We’re going to try to do more, we’re going to try to figure out how to do more, we’re going to try to fix the problems, or the perceived problems,” Huggins said. “We’ll do the best we possibly can. Can I sit here and tell you I have it figured out? If I had it figured out, there’d be (350) other Division I coaches lined up outside my door saying, ‘How do you do it?’ because it’s happening everywhere.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.