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Hugly Virginia TCU Basketball

WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins isn’t sure about which players he’ll be coaching in the 2021-22 season.

MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University men’s basketball team spent the entire 2020-21 season ranked in the top 17, finished with a 19-10 record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Whether next year’s WVU squad can replicate those feats will depend on the roster Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins can put on the floor, and right now that roster is unclear.

“I don’t have any idea,” said Huggins when asked what his 2021-22 club will look like. “It’s a crazy time in college athletics; you don’t know who is coming and who is staying.

“It’s hard right now to be able to say what your definite roster is, because you just don’t know,” said Huggins in an interview on the MetroNews Statewide Sportsline. “We’ve got four guys who are looking at the [NBA] draft. You don’t know how many of those slimy creatures called agents are slithering around promising the world and not being able to deliver anything but promising the world.”

With the NCAA’s transfer portal usually leading to immediate eligibility at another college, plus the enticement of testing the NBA waters, half of West Virginia’s roster is in a state of uncertainty.

Junior forward Emmitt Matthews and junior guard Jordan McCabe are leaving WVU via transfers. McCabe has already signed with UNLV and Matthews is still exploring his options.

Those two are definitely gone, and the future for other Mountaineers is unclear. Guards Deuce McBride, Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil have all publicly announced their intentions to put their names into 2021 NBA draft consideration to check on their pro potential. Junior center Derek Culver appears likely to do the same.

Because none have signed with an agent, each has until July 19 to pull his name out of the draft pool if he wishes to return to college.

McBride, who averaged 15.9 points this past season, has the highest stock among NBA analysts. He’s listed as a mid-second-round pick by most of the current mock drafts.

“He’s here now,” said Huggins of McBride, who is in Morgantown and working out with the Mountaineers. “I haven’t really sat down and broached that conversation [about his draft status] with him yet. This is just me, but I think the family decision is he will stay and get his education. He’s not going to bail out on his education.”

The definite departures of McCabe and Matthews, combined with the uncertainty in terms of the pro decisions for McBride, McNeil, Sherman and Culver, leaves WVU with six other scholarship players who are eligible to return — Jalen Bridges, Gabe Osabuohien, Isaiah Cottrell, Kedrian Johnson, Taj Thweatt and Seny Ndiaye.

In addition, the Mountaineers have signed two high school guards who will join the team this summer — Kobe Johnson (who recently was named Ohio’s Division I Player of the Year) and Seth Wilson. The Mountaineers also have a verbal commitment from 6-foot-9 grad transfer Dimon Carrigan, who has spent the past two seasons at Florida International.

Huggins has often said he’s not a fan of the transfer portal, especially how it is currently combined with immediate eligibility, but he admits that his squad will also have to be active in mining the portal as WVU looks to rebuild its roster.

“What else are we going to look at? They actually haven’t given us much of a choice,” Huggins said. “There are 1,000 guys in the portal, 1,000! Here is a question: What about the people who don’t get [a new scholarship offer] who have left their school? What about them? Don’t they matter?

“That’s the position we’ve been put in. There are so many people who think they know our business but don’t have a clue, don’t have a clue. A lot of them are housed in Indianapolis [home to the NCAA headquarters]. We [college coaches] all look each other and are like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ because they don’t live in our world.”

WVU has seen two of its players enter the transfer portal, including Matthews, who started 25 of WVU’s 29 games this past season en route to averaging 8.5 points and 4.0 rebounds.

The Mountaineers are not alone in experiencing players who want to transfer. Nine of the 10 teams in the Big 12 have someone in the portal, and most have multiples. Texas Tech has the largest number with six. Baylor is the only Big 12 team without a player in the portal, but it may only be a matter of time before the newly crowned national champions experience a portal entry as well.

“This is maybe the worst thing that has happened to amateur basketball and college sports,” said Huggins of the expanded transfer rules. “I just think it was a terrible decision by the NCAA to do this.

“I’m on the Board of Governors, which is a huge table of the who’s-who of college coaching, and there wasn’t one vote for it,” explained Huggins, who will take a career coaching record of 900-382 into his 15th season leading his alma mater. “Everyone voted against it, and I mean everyone. You have that going on, but then they say, ‘We appreciate your opinion, but we’re going to do this anyway.’ It doesn’t leave a good taste in your mouth.”

College coaches may not be able to put the transfer genie back in the bottle, and that doesn’t mean they have to be happy about the situation.

“I hope people understand that this is not a good thing as advertised; this is a bad thing,” said a disgusted Huggins. “For all the [public relations] that is thrown out there, people need to realize they are not helping our student-athletes.

“I get frustrated from by the fact that you work so hard to try to help guys, not just athletically but academically and socially and everything else,” WVU’s coach said. “You are about to get to the point where everything is coming together, and then someone comes up and says, ‘Hey, why don’t you put your name in the portal and see what’s out there for you?’ It makes no sense to me.”