The West Virginia University men’s basketball team’s “Gold and Blue Debut” on Friday is a glorified scrimmage, but if one prominent Mountaineer player is to be believed, fans might be impressed by WVU’s practice habits — especially after the way last season played out.
One week into practice for the 2019-2020 season, sophomore point guard Jordan McCabe said there is a noticeable difference between this version of the Mountaineers and the one on display last season.
“We’ve had quite a few really good practices,” McCabe said. “Last year, they were few and far between as far as walking away from a drill in practice saying, ‘We’ve got something done.’ That hasn’t been an issue this year. We all want to be here and we all want to work. The biggest change is when guys want to be here, good things happen.”
The roster last season, at least the one near the end of the season, was rife with youth and inexperience. Those players — guys like McCabe and fellow sophomores Emmitt Matthews and Derek Culver — are still young but have the experience to blend with upperclassmen like seniors Chase Harler and Logan Routt. Even the newcomers this season — like highly touted true freshmen Oscar Tshiebwe and Miles McBride or junior college sharpshooter Taz Sherman — have hit the ground running in West Virginia’s practice sessions, according to McCabe.
“We compete,” McCabe said. “That’s a staple everybody can get behind. I’m not saying that to blow smoke. This team competes at every position. You’ve got guys going at it every practice — in a good way.
“[The coaches] don’t have to worry about coaching effort. They can do their jobs coaching some of the best basketball in the country, which is something they’ve done for a very long time.”
McCabe said last season it felt like some Mountaineer players did not buy in to what coach Bob Huggins was selling, which struck the then-freshman as odd considering how long Huggins has been coaching successful teams at a high level. West Virginia had problems on both ends of the floor a year ago, but perhaps more than anything turnovers time and again hurt the Mountaineers in important moments.
This season, however, McCabe said he doesn’t see that being an issue for WVU.
“I don’t think we were bought in to our system, the system that’s worked for how many years?” McCabe said. “I don’t know why that was the case psychologically from player to player, but last year we weren’t bought into the system offensively as we needed to be. This year that’s not an issue.
“You buy into the system, you listen to what coach tells you to do. For me, that’s keeping the ball in the middle of the floor. For other guys, it might be getting open on the wings. Whatever it may be, as long as everyone is doing their job, turnovers shouldn’t be an issue.”