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WVU Classic: Still adjusting to the Big 12

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A year ago at the WVU Classic, put on annually by the Mountaineer Athletic Club at Berry Hills Country Club, coaches were preparing to adapt to life in the Big 12.

Fast-forward to this year and it's apparent that the adaptation is still a work in progress.

In fact, one big change was announced on Thursday just before the dinner got underway.

After a successful inaugural baseball season in the Big 12, the WVU Board of Governors approved a $2.3 million property purchase for a new baseball stadium, something athletic director Oliver Luck was pleased with and eager to talk about.

"I love the conference because it's forcing us to upgrade everything we do," Luck said. "It's an important step obviously, without the land there's nothing to build on.

"We still have a lot of work to do to figure it all out, but it's the first of many steps in terms of putting shovels in the ground and getting the ballpark designed and getting the ballpark ultimately built and then, of course, the big moment will be when the ballpark is actually used for game number one and hopefully many great games beyond."

Luck said the beginning of construction on the ballpark is still several months away and that getting started before the end of the year isn't guaranteed.

But between now and next baseball season, the football and men's basketball teams will have a second crack at the league that gave each some problems last year.

WVU football coach Dana Holgorsen and basketball coach Bob Huggins were in attendance Thursday and are both dealing with changes of their own.

For Huggins, most that change comes on the personnel level with seniors Deniz Kilicli and Matt Humphrey gone as well as former players Jabarie Hinds, Keaton Miles, Aaron Brown and Volodymyr Gerun, each of whom left the program.

Transfers Remi Dibo and Jonathan Holton will enter the fold this season along with the class of incoming freshmen.

After a disappointing 13-19 mark, including 6-12 in the Big 12, there will be a new set of faces representing WVU next season. Despite the influx of new players, Huggins said he is not worried about continuity and is optimistic for next year.

"I really don't think that will be a problem," Huggins said. "Our guard corps is pretty much intact and those are the people who run things, and I'm sure they're going to be a whole lot more committed to doing what we want them to do than maybe they were a year ago. Our front-line guys are big and strong and athletic and that's what you need."

Huggins also admitted that the first year of play in the Big 12 was a huge change in more ways than one.

"I think it was a big change in style of play, I think it was a big change in officiating, and I think it was a big change in travel," Huggins said. "Obviously we didn't handle it as well as we needed to."

The travel aspect of the basketball season is one area where Huggins said he hopes to see even more change, and he said he and the athletic department have taken measures to assure that happens.

"We've made some appeals to the league and I know the commissioner is very sensitive to that fact," Huggins said. "It's hard. I don't care who you are, if you get back at four or five o'clock in the morning, it's hard. Hopefully we've made some suggestions that I think they agree with and hopefully that comes out on the schedule."

While Holgorsen didn't have to deal with the mass exodus that Huggins is trying to overcome, he said his roster has some growth to do moving forward as well.

"We're still about 20-25 players short of what our actual roster is going to look like in August," Holgorsen said. "We've got about 12 or 13 more coming this weekend to integrate those guys into what we're doing, and then on July 1 we have another six or seven guys. You spend so much time getting to know these guys but you can't do anything with them athletically."

Game times for the first three games of the year were set this week with the season opener with William and Mary (Aug. 31) and the third game of the year against Georgia Southern (Sept. 14), each set for noon kickoffs in Morgantown.

Sandwiched in between is the little matter of a Big 12 Conference opener at Oklahoma, which is set for 7 p.m. on Sept. 7.

While that game will have many Mountaineer fans circling their calendars, Holgorsen said of all the things concerning him at the moment, games are not one of them.

"The furthest thing from my mind is a game right now," Holgorsen said. "We're doing so much different stuff - it's more of a summertime, offseason and conditioning for our guys. Then we get into August, which is 25-26 days of preparation before we start focusing on what an actual game is going to be like, but we'll take it one at a time.

"We won't start talking about Oklahoma until it's game week. But it will be fun, that's a great place to play and a storied program that has a tremendous amount of tradition and a tremendous amount of talent not only on the coaching staff but on the field as well."

Holgorsen had one more change up his sleeve this week as he is participating in the golf outing (weather permitting) today at Berry Hills, unlike last year when he did not play.

He got a practice round in on Thursday.

"Awful," Holgorsen said. "Mountaineer nation should be excited about the fact that I played awful."

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt

 


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