Mitch Vingle: WVU’s Huggins on Culver, Ohio State, UK and more

AP photo
West Virginia University men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins.

West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins has been making the rounds this week.

He and assistant Ron Everhart were at Primanti Brothers sandwich shop in Wheeling for a fundraiser and will loop the state and visit Hurricane on Thursday.

Around Huggins, however, news and events continue to swirl — like his team’s allotted two hours a week of summer practice, which began last week.

“Everybody’s in now but Derek [Culver],” said the coach in a sit-down meeting.

Culver, WVU fans undoubtedly know, was the highest rated Mountaineer recruit from the 2017 class. The 6-foot-10 power forward from Warren, Ohio, was a consensus four-star player offered by many, including Indiana, Clemson and Memphis.

Huggins said Culver is “still working on taking a [standardized] test” and he can’t pinpoint a timetable because “you never know when the test is going to come back.”

If Culver isn’t eligible, expect him to attend a prep school, a la South Charleston High graduate Brandon Knapper, though Knapper’s prep school route wasn’t for grades, but to get some crucial on-court time. The prep school might even be the same Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, where Knapper went.

Huggins, however, is cautious when talking about recruits and academic standings. But that’s not the case when the subject is basketball and the recruits are in Morgantown.

“D’Angelo [Hunter] just got in,” Huggins said of the 6-6 junior college transfer. “Wes [Harris, another JC transfer] has had a workout, but it’s hard to tell. Knapper, though, has been playing really well. And Teddy [Allen, a 6-5 freshman] has been here for a couple workouts. He brings a lot of toughness.”

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WVU received a nice boost when team leader Jevon Carter pulled his name from the NBA draft eligibility list.

“It was never his intention to leave,” Huggins said. “He just wanted to go see what it was like so he could better prepare for next year. I think he was happy with the process and what happened to him. Now he’s working his butt off like he always has.”

Carter’s work ethic certainly comes through on the court.

“We’ve been blessed,” Huggins said. “[Joe] Alexander really worked. [Da’Sean] Butler really worked. Kevin Jones really worked. When you start talking about those kinds of guys, JC is right with them. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

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Yes, Huggins was asked if he had any contact with Ohio State about its recent men’s basketball coaching opening. At one point, the Columbus Dispatch threw out the Mountaineer coach’s name, along with those of Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams and Providence’s Ed Cooley. Butler’s Chris Holtmann was ultimately hired.

“No,” Huggins said. “It was just a newspaper throwing out names.”

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A little over a week ago, longtime assistant to Huggins, Billy Hahn, announced to the Gazette-Mail his retirement. The coach was asked if the position — which, toward the end of Hahn’s career, was more of a support role — would be filled.

“No, Billy is irreplaceable,” Huggins deadpanned. “You can’t replace him.”

The coach, however, did pay tribute to Hahn.

“I could be wrong, but I think West Virginians loved Billy,” Huggins said. “He’s very down to earth. At functions, if I couldn’t go, I’d send him out. He did a great job.

“And this is a great thing for Billy. You put 40, 41 years into this business and I know for a fact it wears on you. He’s got some intriguing possibilities.”

Huggins was asked if he knows how much longer he will coach. He basically has a lifetime contract with WVU.

“No,” he said. “I just need some time off now. I need to be around our [basketball players] for a while and then I need to take off with my wife and kind of unwind.”

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And finally…

Huggins was asked about the upcoming home date with Kentucky. The coach used to have Wildcat coach and close friend John Calipari’s number, but that’s changed of late.

Whatever the case though, it will certainly be a hot ticket in Morgantown. The last time UK hit the Coliseum it had just opened in 1970 and Adolph Rupp was the Wildcats’ coach.

Could it be the biggest home game of the Huggins era at WVU?

“No,” he said flatly. “I mean, if they come in No. 1 in the country it will be like having Kansas coming in No. 1 or Baylor coming in No. 1.”

Indeed, hosting a No. 1 team in Morgantown isn’t rare since West Virginia joined the Big 12. In fact, Baylor entered No. 1 just this past Jan. 10.

Yet hosting Kentucky, especially with Calipari on the bench, will always be special in Morgantown.

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