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Osborne era off to solid start at UC

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Many in the Mountain State have been focused on the plight of WVU football or basketball. Or they've been watching the rise of Doc Holliday's football program at Marshall. Or maybe they've been checking out the fortunes of MU basketball.

What many of us have missed, though, is the start of a new regime at the University of Charleston.

A successful start, that is, of a new regime.

Understand that when Dwaine Osborne was named to succeed Mark Downey as UC's men's basketball coach, it was met with a collective yawn.

Osborne was hired with a 77-115 overall record. UC athletic director Bren Stevens said Osborne had "great character," yet his hire from the University of Texas at the Permian Basin left many in the community scratching their heads.

So far, however, so good for Osborne and the Golden Eagles. They won two games in the Shepherd Tip-Off Classic, one of those against a good Slippery Rock team picked to finish third in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.

The Golden Eagles fell by just 89-76 to the nation's No. 1 Division II team, West Liberty. They are 4-1 headed into tonight's 7:30 home game against Fairmont State, picked to finish second in the Mountain East Conference.

Despite the start, it's understood that Osborne and company have a rugged road ahead. Tonight, ex-WVU assistant Jerrod Calhoun leads his Falcons into Eddie King Gym. Calhoun, now assisted by ex-WVU standout Joe Mazzulla, has Logan's Stevie Browning leading the way. But the Falcons also have players like Duquesne transfers Martins Abele (a 7-foot-1 center) and Mamadou Datt (a 6-9 forward) coming off the bench.

Also, Osborne and UC will have to start fighting a battle for fans and recruits in Charleston as West Virginia State prepares to open its new arena. So Osborne has to battle the likes of West Liberty and Fairmont, the new facility in Institute and, well, his anonymity.

He's starting by getting to know his players, most holdovers from the Downey era.

"We've been trying to do a lot of team things, spending time together off the floor," said Osborne. "A lot of that is getting to know guys: who they are, what they've been through in their lives, what makes them tick.

"I try to figure out what motivates them as well as get as much done as possible on the floor. The tricky thing with that is no one - not even the couple I've brought in - had ever played one play for me or been through one practice. They didn't know my drills, much less the system."

Osborne, though, seems to be getting along with the team.

"They were giving me a hard time the other day," said the UC coach. "When I get frustrated at practice, I'll say, 'Hey, what are we doing? What ARE we doing? We look like we're running a circus!' So they were making fun of me in the locker room, asking, 'What are we doing, coach? What ARE we doing?'

"They've been fun. It's been great."

Osborne admits he doesn't have a feel for how the Golden Eagles will fare. He coached at Glenville, but that was four years ago.

"I couldn't ask for more in regard to effort though," Osborne said. "I think one of the things that's helped is the players like each other. They genuinely like being around each other. They care about each other."

Osborne's team offensive style?

"That's a great question," he said. "Some days I might say inept. We've kind of taken some pieces of different things and put them together. It's kind of like gumbo. You stir it and mix it up.

"We have some quick hitters in [the offense]. We have times we're looking for very specific things, like multiple ball reversals. The next time we might look for something pretty quick. A lot of it is based on matchups."

Osborne tries to use a sense of humor - but with a nudge.

"I remember growing up," said the coach. "My dad played baseball in western Kentucky. I remember when I played I could go 0 for 5 with eight errors and my mom thought I played great.

"My dad was kind of the opposite. I could have gone 5 for 5 and he would have said I could have done something better. He would tell me I played well, but would say I needed to work on this or that.

"I lean toward my dad. It's funny. I had one kid [Glenville's Tryvan Leech] score 52 points in a game and only take 18 shots. He went 12 of 13 from [the 3-point line]. In the locker room afterward, you could see on our guys' faces, 'Coach is going to have to tell Tryvan he played well. He only missed two shots all night.'

"You could see the guys almost saying, 'C'mon, c'mon, tell him he played well.' They were itching for me to say it. I said, 'I really don't understand how in the world you can go out and go 12 of 13 from the 3 - and miss two free throws. How does that even make sense?'

"I try to do that kind of thing without being demeaning. Then, when you graduate, I'll tell you, 'Man, that was unbelievable.' "

At UC, Osborne is leaning on Marshall transfer Xavier Humphrey, who is averaging 19.6 points. ("I'm constantly on him," said the coach. "He's such a great kid though. I think he enjoys the challenge.")

Note that UC's leading scorer is a transfer. When Downey left for West Alabama, it was partially because, after a legal mess involving three Golden Eagles, the coach was instructed to rely more on high school recruits.

"I don't think any university wants you to take all transfers," Osborne said. "We're all trying to win with the best kids possible. We're looking for the best fits for our school and what our school is about.

"We [at UC] didn't talk about having a certain number of high school kids or an 'X' number of transfers here when I was hired. It was about, hey, find kids that fit here, that fit academically and fit with the mission of the school.

"We're like a lot of places. We want great kids; we want great students; we want great players."

Now the task is piecing all that together - and drawing fans to Eddie King.

"Everybody wants to be a part of a winner," Osborne said. "So we need to get guys who can help us win. But I think - and this is a compliment to West Liberty - you want teams like [the Hilltoppers] which are good and successful, but without troubling reports. Coach [Jim] Crutchfield has managed to do that with good people.

"It's a pretty good blueprint. You don't have to play the same offense or defense or style [as West Liberty], but the blueprint there is pretty good."

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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