Mountaineers start practice with madness
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has a team unlike any of his first four with the Mountaineers.
The roster has nine scholarship newcomers and eight of them were on hand Friday night for Mountaineer Madness, the season-opening scrimmage and slam-dunk contest.
The newcomers include two transfers, who will sit out the season according to NCAA requirements and one junior-college transfer Dominique Rutledge, who was suspended indefinitely.
Four of the freshmen and Rutledge made the trip to Italy in August when the Mountaineers played against four teams, including Illinois for a brief scrimmage. While the trip helped to a degree, Huggins knows his players have a major learning curve ahead before taking on Oral Roberts on Nov. 11, in the first game of the season.
''When you have eight newcomers, there are bad things going on everywhere. When you have two or three freshmen, it's not too bad,'' Huggins said. ''Kevin (Jones) knows what he is doing, Truck (Bryant) knows what he is doing and Deniz (Kilicli) knows what he is doing. When you have a young team, there is just bad stuff going on everywhere and you can't correct it all at one time. Three years ago, we had three freshmen in our top six. If it is just three freshman in the top six you can figure it out. It is just kind of difficult right now.''
Forwards Jones and Kilicli and guard Bryant are the only truly experienced players on the roster. Jones returns as the leading scorer, averaging 13.1 points in 2010-11. Bryant averaged 11.1 points and The 6-foot-10 Kilicli averaged 6.6 points.
''We have two seniors, really three guys back if you count Kevin (Noreen),'' Huggins told the crowd of about 7,500. ''The trip to Italy helped out, but ... because of what happened last year we lost some of our youthful exuberance.''
Last year's freshman class was wiped out by injury, illness, and defection.
Huggins enters the season nine victories shy of 700.
Kilicli, a native of Istanbul, Turkey and an amateur guitarist who has performed around town, entertained the crowd by performing the university's adopted fight song, ''Country Roads,'' with his teammates. He played electric guitar as the gold-and-blue clad Mountaineers joined the throng in John Denver's song.
Other highlights included a dunk contest won by 6-10 junior Aaric Murray, who will sit out the season after transferring from La Salle. Murray used Bryant to his benefit as he leaped over the guard for one slam then took a pass from him for another.
The evening started off with a Bob Huggins look-alike contest, which was judged by wife, selected students and the crowd.
Both the men's and women's teams were introduced under a spotlight. Two banners were hoisted over the court, signifying last season's NCAA tournament.
The dunk contest was judged by two former players, the Huggins look-alike and school President James Clements and wife.