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Mitch Vingle: Nichols, Wofford to Morgantown; VMI-WVU to Charleston

Oh, those amazing, curious circles of life.You’ve experienced them. And these days former WVU point guard Darris Nichols is seriously experiencing them.

To wit:

Nichols played collegiate ball first for John Beilein and then Bob Huggins in Morgantown.

Nichols was a graduate assistant coach for Huggins, who then helped the former Mountaineer get a job at Eastern Kentucky.

From there, Nichols moved to Wofford, which met — yessiree — Beilein’s Michigan team in the NCAA tournament this past March. (The Wolverines won 57-40 in Milwaukee.)

Now, this coming season, Nichols and Wofford head coach Mike Young will take their Terriers to Morgantown to face Huggins’ Mountaineers.

It’s one of three previous unannounced WVU hoops games uncovered by the Sunday Gazette-Mail. First, understand there have been erroneous reports. According to Huggins, the Mountaineers will not play Purdue this coming season. Also, the series with Duquesne is over for now, perhaps because of the way that school treated current Mountaineer assistant Ron Everhart, a former Dukes head coach.

Second, WVU will visit Charleston to not only play Marshall, but VMI. Last season, the Keydets won three games in the postseason CollegeInsider.com Tournament before falling in the semifinals to Yale. The Big South team, coached by Duggar Baucom, finished 22-13, but does lose leading scorer Rodney Glasgow, who had an 18.9 scoring average.

Also, WVU’s usual exhibition game with a West Virginia Division II school will be Shepherd this year.

But let’s, well, circle back to Nichols. Ex-Mountaineer Joe Mazzulla once called the former player the best point guard in WVU history. (Argue that among yourselves. Greg Jones, Steve Berger, Fritz Williams, Lowes Moore and Marsalis Basey were pretty good. Ditto that Juwan Staten kid that’s up there now.)

Where Mazzulla might have a point is the way Nichols handled the ball. If you check WVU’s career stats, you’ll see he’s ranked No. 1 all-time in assist/turnover ratio at 2.96. And it’s not even close. Staten is next at 2.51. Nichols stands No. 9 among Mountaineers in career assists with 399.

“He was very good,” Huggins said.

This winter, Nichols will return to the Coliseum.

“It means a lot because it’s a place where I spent a lot of time,” Nichols said. “I felt like I grew up there ... When I go back and look in the stands I see the same loyal fans. It’s special to go back there.”

Reuniting players is kind of a theme with WVU this coming season. When the Mountaineers play in the Puerto Rico Tipoff tournament, guard Gary Browne will be going home. Staten might get to go against Dayton, from where he transferred.

Nichols, though, arranged his own ticket to Morgantown.

“[Wofford associate head coach] Dustin Kerns does our scheduling,” Nichols said. “Well, I’m always looking for a way to get back to West Virginia. So I told him, ‘Let’s play the Mountaineers.’ I called [WVU assistant coach] Billy Hahn and they needed a game too.”

The teams will play Dec. 22, which is the Monday after WVU plays North Carolina State at Madison Square Garden. And if the Mountaineers aren’t careful, it could turn into a trap game.

As mentioned, Wofford went to the NCAA tournament last season, its third such trip. The Terriers don’t have much height, but they do have much returning experience. Leading scorer Karl Cochran (15.7 average) returns at guard as does second-leading scorer Spencer Collins (12.5). Forward Lee Skinner (11.1) is also back. (Ditto Parkersburg product Zac Grossenbacher, who attended Massanutten Military Academy.) The only player gone from last season’s team is Aerris Smith, a 6-foot-8 forward, who averaged but 1.5 points.

“[Smith] didn’t score much, but he was one of our big guys we couldn’t have won without,” Nichols said. “We will, though, add three more players and there will be high expectations. If we have the same approach as last season, we should be all right.”

The Terriers, Huggins said, are fortunate to have Nichols.

“He has a great way with players,” said the Mountaineer coach. “He’s always had a good understanding of the game.”

And that Dec. 22 game will be getting Nichols from Spartanburg, S.C., back to Morgantown.

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


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