Mountaineer basketball set to showcase talents in Wheeling

WHEELING — With renovations under way at the West Virginia University Coliseum, the men’s basketball team had to find a new home for its annual Gold-Blue Debut.

According to WVU head coach Bob Huggins, they found the perfect place.

The Mountaineers will pack their bags and showcase their talents at 7 p.m. Thursday at WesBanco Arena. Admission is free with the gates opening at 6 p.m.

“With the Coliseum under repair, this gave us the opportunity to look around the state,” Huggins said in a phone interview Thursday. “I thought it was the right arena, at the right time, in the right part of the state. There are so many Mountaineers fans in Wheeling.

“Hopefully this will help people in Wheeling be more ingrained in the Mountaineers.”

While practice began Monday, the Gold-Blue Debut is the tip off to the 2016-2017 season, featuring a 30-minute officiated game between team members.

The players and staff will be introduced to go along with a speech from Huggins and an autograph session with the student-athletes following the event.

Also featured will be performances from the Mountaineers pep band, cheerleaders and dance team.

“They are looking forward to it,” Huggins said of his players. “I just plan on sitting there and watching. I don’t plan on doing much coaching unless I have to.”

Two players that local fans will be looking forward to seeing are freshman Chase Harler from Wheeling Central and redshirt freshman Logan Routt from Cameron.

Unfortunately for Routt, he suffered an injury and will be just a spectator while his teammates take the WesBanco Arena floor.

“He has a stress fracture in his foot and he is going to be out a little while,” Huggins said. “Doctors haven’t given us a time frame yet.

“But Logan has improved dramatically. From shaping his body to his mobility to getting his shot off, he continues to get better and better.”

Harler has also impressed the veteran coach and he sees big things from the 6-foot-3 guard.

“Chase has played real well and plays really hard,” Huggins said. “We need him to get a little more consistent but he is doing fine.

“He defends, runs down balls and I don’t see a reason why he can’t contribute for us this season.”

Other Mountaineers that fans will get to see are former Morgantown standout Nathan Adrian, as well as returning starter Daxter Miles Jr.

Other names to watch out for his season are Jevon Carter, Tarik Phillip, Tevyon Myers, James Long, Elijah Macon, Brandon Watkins, Sagaba Konate, Esa Ahmad and Maceij Bender.

Carter and Miles were named to the Preseason All-Big 12 honorable mention team announced Thursday by the league. West Virginia and Kansas were the only two Big 12 teams with multiple players honored on the preseason team.

“We’ve only practice three days but they are getting a little bit of everything right now,” Huggins said. “Mainly taking care of the basketball. We didn’t do real well with ball security last year.”

That was never more evident than in last season’s first-round upset at the hands of Stephen F. Austin in the NCAA Tournament. The Lumberjacks forced 22 turnovers and turned them into 29 points in a 70-56 victory against the third-seeded Mountaineers.

“It comes up occasionally,” Huggins said.

After the Gold-Blue Debut, the Mountaineers will begin their preseason tilt on Oct. 29 in Beckley against West Virginia Tech. According to Huggins, there were talks to play West Liberty at the Coliseum before the renovations. Instead, the veteran coach, who needs nine victories to reach 800 in his career, decided the southern part of the state was most in need.

“We thought it would be very advantageous because the southern part of the state has been through a lot with the flooding and the mine situation and people losing their jobs,” Huggins said. “Hopefully us coming closer to them will lift their spirits.”

While a game against the Hilltoppers may be on the horizon in the future, one that for sure will be is a game against rival Pittsburgh, back on the schedule for a four-game slate beginning next season.

“I tried to do this game all along,” Huggins said. “It wasn’t me holding it up. I was fortunate enough to play in the series and understand the rivalry. It should happen and I’m glad the powers that be finally let it happen.”

Before Thursday’s event, Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration will be holding a trick-or-treat tailgate at 5:30 p.m. at WesBanco Arena. Water Street will be closed between the arena and the parking garage for the tailgate, which will feature a bounce house, music and a safe trick-or-treat route for the children.

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