Bob Huggins wins game No. 800 in his career

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Bob Huggins became the just the 10th person to win 800 games at the Division I level on Saturday, and he did it in the typical manner of his West Virginia teams: Press, Press, Press.

The No. 12 Mountaineers forced 27 turnovers in a 112-67 win over UMKC. ‘Press Virginia’ is a machine these days, one that can’t even be slowed down by a team losing their two best scorers, best rebounder and most versatile defender to graduation.

This program that Huggs is overseeing these days is the most unlikely development in a career that never seemed like a given. Huggs has won 800 games despite spending the majority of his career viewed as something of a black sheep by those outside the coaching business, and he did it at these schools: Walsh, Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State and now West Virginia.

Those aren’t exactly blue-bloods in the sport.

So the fact that he’s had this much success, period, is something of an upset.

But what makes joining this club – which also includes Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, Jim Boeheim, Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, Jim Calhoun, Jim Phelan, Eddie Sutton and Rollie Massimino — so incredible is that Huggins is winning at West Virginia after totally overhauling his style of play. He’s coaching ‘Press Virginia’ now, but he was never a pressing coach before he returned to Morgantown.

So how did that happen?

Below you’ll find the story we published on that very subject last November.

A SHIFT IN PHILOSOPHY LED BOB HUGGINS TO BUILD ‘PRESS VIRGINIA’

by Raphielle Johnson
Published: 11/5/15

Nothing motivates change in sports more than losing.

After struggling in their first two seasons as a member of the Big 12, West Virginia underwent a change that represented quite the departure from their head coach’s usual defensive approach, because that head coach was not accustomed to losing.

In Bob Huggins’ first five seasons at his alma mater, West Virginia won an average of 24 games. The 2010 team won 31, reaching the program’s first Final Four since 1959.

To get an idea of just how long ago that was, Fidel Castro came into power in Cuba in 1959. The Mountaineers went five full decades without seeing a Final Four before the 6-foot-8 West Virginian showed up. Huggins always seems to have a negative connotation thanks to bad boy brand he built around his powerhouse Cincinnati program in the 90’s and early 00’s, but understand this: the man has won 765 games in his career. That didn’t happen by accident. He can coach.

But things changed upon the Mountaineers’ arrival in the Big 12 in 2013. They won just 13 games in their debut season and 17 the following year. While there were some close defeats during those two seasons, the common theme was that the Mountaineers didn’t defend with the aggressiveness many had come to expect from Huggins-coached teams. Part of that was having to adjust their personnel to fit their new conference home.

“(The Big 12) was a different style of play,” Huggins said, “more of a ‘play off the bounce’ kind of league.”

But the main thing was that in those two seasons, the Mountaineers could not get the stops they needed to close out games. And that was a departure from what many are used to seeing from Huggins-coached teams.

“If you know Coach Huggins and his philosophy, he’s always been a ‘defense-first’ coach and prides himself on his teams playing very good team defense,” WVU associate head coach Larry Harrison, who’s been a member of Huggins’ staffs for 17 years at both WVU and Cincinnati, said. “Those two years where we had the losing season and then went to the NIT, it got to a point where when we needed a stop we just didn’t do it as a team and we didn’t have one individual we felt we could depend on defensively to get that stop.”

Last year’s group got back to those defensive principles, only in a slightly different manner: their use of tenacious, full-court pressure that forced turnovers on a nation’s best 28 percent of their opponents’ possessions.

And while the Mountaineers’ effective field goal percentage defense (52.7 percent) was worse than the numbers produced the previous two seasons, that was actually by design. The goal of this new defense, of this press, was to raise hell, take risks and force turnovers that led to layups and open jumpers in transition; easy points that come before defenses get set. When an opposing backcourt was able to beat the press — when West Virginia’s gambling defense didn’t pay off — they got better looks at the rim, only they got less of them.

The end result: 25 wins, a Sweet 16 appearance, and a new identity.

“Press Virginia” was born.

* * *

While attributes such as athleticism, length and quickness get mentioned when discussing pressure defense, the most important key has little to do with physical ability. The key for any successful pressure defense is that the team buy into the concept; that no matter what everyone is on board with the system and won’t abandon ship at the first sign of tumult.

“I thought we needed to change the style that we played,” Huggins said. “I spent time with Kevin Mackey, who I thought did the best job of anybody at the college level with pressure defense. I thought our guys embraced it, and that was probably as key as anything. They really did embrace that style of play.”

Mackey, whose been in basketball for more than four decades, made note of in his conversations with his longtime friend before the start of last season. Now a scout with the Indiana Pacers, Mackey used pressure defense to take 14th-seeded Cleveland State to the Sweet 16 in 1986. And in his view West Virginia’s personnel and the current status of the college game lent itself to the Mountaineers being able to successfully utilize pressure defense. But none of that would have mattered had the head coach not bought into the change himself.

“A number of people told me he won 13 games more than he should have last season,” Mackey noted. “Kids who should have won 13 or 14 games won 25, went to the Sweet 16. In my own opinion Bob’s a hall of fame coach, he’s a great defensive coach. He had the fundamentals down cold 35 years ago, and it was a matter of his adjusting his thinking to go to the full-court (pressure) all the time.”

Just as important as the mindset was the personnel, something West Virginia didn’t have in their first two seasons in the Big 12. Having the pieces needed to be more aggressive defensively allowed the coaching staff to move forward with its plan, with the hope that the defensive intensity would return as a trademark of the program.

“I was with him at Cincinnati in the 90s when we did press quite a bit, more three-quarter court, a lot of 2-1-2 pressure rather than the full-court that we’re doing now,” Harrison said. “Since we’ve been at West Virginia we’ve been trying to get back to that point, we just didn’t feel like we had the personnel to do that.”

“Going into last season with the number of guards we had, we felt we’d be really competitive. And the depth we had, we felt that this was the time because they all wanted to play. That’s the thing that (Huggins) told the guys. ‘If you want to play, then I need all you guys to play as hard as you can for as long as you can and then we can rotate you in and out and then everybody will play.’ But you have to buy in.”

That buy-in is key not only for the beginnings of a new system, but also throughout the course of a season. Turning into a high-level pressure defensive team doesn’t happen overnight.

“The kids can tell if you’re really committed to it,” Mackey continued. “Bobby committed to it. When you first start to teach [a press], it’s a fourth grade press and that’s the best it is. And then after a week it’s a sixth grade press, and after three weeks it’s a high school press.”

“I saw them at the beginning of the season against LSU, which was really gifted physically and had a couple NBA guys, and West Virginia lost by one. I told Bobby it’s a high school press. I then saw him in December at Madison Square Garden against NC State and he had a big-time college press.”

Perhaps most important, however, is actually winning. It’s true with any style, really, but it is particularly important when trying to instill a new style of play into a program. Winning is what the kids and the coaches — hell, everyone that’s involved with or supporting the program — care about. When a team is stacking Ws, the players start to realize: ‘Hey, maybe coach knows what he’s talking about.’

Jonathan Holton (AP Photo)
Jonathan Holton (AP Photo)

West Virginia won 14 of their first 15 games to start the 2014-15 season, the lone defeat being that one point loss to LSU. It was clear that West Virginia was taking to its new defensive style. One of those watershed moments came in West Virginia’s win over UConn in the title game of the Puerto Rico Tipoff, as they harassed the Huskies into committing 19 turnovers on the night.

And while UConn may not have finished the season as an elite team, that program has an elite name and an elite brand. They were the reigning national champions, after all. Beating them gave the Mountaineers an early indication that this new system could be successful.

“The UConn game gave us some credibility as a team, and also made the players feel much better about what we were doing,” Harrison noted. “You beat the defending national champs, and you do it by playing our style. One of the really big keys is that they would get up, then we would get up, and the players started to see the effect that our style of play was having on our opponents.”

Ten players averaged at least 12.9 minutes per game last season, with guard Juwan Staten (31.2 mpg) leading the way while also pacing the Mountaineers in scoring (14.2 ppg) and assists (4.6 apg). Forwards Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton, with the latter playing at the head of the WVU press, were among the key contributors as well, and the team’s depth and activity helped them mask deficiencies in other areas.

The most notable issue for this group was their lack of quality shooters. They shot 40.8 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from three, finishing the year with an effective field goal percentage of 46.1 percent. Their shooters are more streaky than prolific, and that bore itself out in the percentage numbers West Virginia put up last season. But even with those low percentages West Virginia still managed to finish 45th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.

Why?

Because they were one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams, grabbing more than 40 percent of their own misses. The Mountaineers attempted 512 more shots from the field than their opponents.

Quantity over quality.

“They have guys like Jevon Carter, (Jaysean) Paige, among others, who can certainly heat up and make shots. But the end result of this style is they create more turnovers and more offensive rebounds,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said. “The fact that they get way more field goal attempts than their opponents, it makes up for the very streaky shooting. I always say, ‘you have to create an offense with a missed shot in mind,’ because even if you shoot 45 percent from the field 55 percent of the shots are coming off as misses.”

“Their offense is designed with the missed shot in mind. In other words, they’re not worried about making or missing jump shots,” Fraschilla continued. “If they go in, great; if guys heat up, great. But they’re also very cognizant of the fact that a missed shot [can be] a pass to Jonathan Holton or Devin Williams or Elijah Macon. That’s how they look at it. You can analyze [the shooting] until the cows come home, but the fact is they get way more field goal attempts than their opponents.”

“They make up for their lack of shooting with their effort both offensively and defensively.”

This season, eight of West Virginia’s top ten players in minutes return; Staten and fellow guard Gary Browne being the departures. Add in a four-member recruiting class that includes four-star forward Esa Ahmad, and the Mountaineers have the experience, depth and talent needed to pick up where they left off a season ago.

“This year that mindset is already there, whereas last year we had to develop it. We had to convince the guys that this was the way we were going to play,” Harrison said. “Now, when our guys are in individual workouts or even in open gym, they’re trapping and picking up full court. It’s kind of like, ‘this is the way it is, you’re at West Virginia, you’re playing for Bob Huggins and this is the way we play.’ It’s caught on, and the new guys are getting used to it as well.”

There are adjustments to be made, however, especially with the renewed emphasis on physical play in college basketball. West Virginia committed more fouls than any team in the country a season ago — 821 to be exact, or 23.5 fouls per game. While there are risks to be taken in the type of defensive system West Virginia employs, they can’t afford to send opponents to the line at a similar clip even with the depth that they enjoy.

And then there’s the need to account for the loss of Staten. While he was the team leader in points and assists, Staten also provided the Mountaineers with a security blanket of sorts down the stretch. With the game in the balance they had a finisher, someone who more times than not made the play that needed to be made. And after going through two seasons in which they struggled to close out games on both ends of the floor, that’s a big deal.

“I think the biggest challenge is going to be finishing games,” Huggins said when asked about how they’d account for the loss of Staten. “He was virtually impossible to trap, he didn’t turn the ball over, and for the most part he made free throws. So there was a guy who you could always put the ball in his hands and trust him with the ball.”

But thanks to their experience, West Virginia does have options capable of assuming that role, namely Jevon Carter.

“He has really embraced that position,” Huggins said. “I think he wants the ball.”

For all of the different areas from which coaches look to extract some kind of motivation, there’s no greater catalyst for change than losing. After two seasons of struggling in the Big 12 West Virginia was faced with a choice: either adapt or continue to languish on the periphery of their new conference. Huggins and his staff adapted, embracing an approach that was a departure from what he’s done in the past.

The move paid off.

“Press Virginia” is here to stay.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.