Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

May 20, 2014

Mountaineer magic

West Virginia faithful paints Princeton blue and gold

PRINCETON — Gold and blue was the color of choice Tuesday night at the Chuck Mathena Center as people from the two Virginias showed their support for West Virginia University athletics.

The WVU Coaches Caravan pulled into Mercer County for the 44th consecutive year and more than 300 West Virginia University alumni and fans of all ages were on hand to enjoy a meal, slap hands with coaches and hear a panel discussion that featured football coach Dana Holgorsen, gymnastics coach Jason Butts, men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins and women’s hoops coach Mike Carey.

The evening began with a meet and greet on the CMC stage where fans were able to talk with coaches, Mountaineer Athletic Club leaders, play-by-play announcer Tony Caridi and the new Mountaineer, Michael Garcia. There was a silent auction for memorabilia and renderings of the new baseball stadium and proposed upgrades to Milan Puskar Stadium at Mountaineer Field were on display.

Jeff Warden of Bluefield was excited to be at the event.

“I brought my son here to experience the WVU Experience,” Warden said. I’ve seen a lot of good friends here and people that I know in the community. It’s really a great family kind of thing. I think it’s awesome to have so many WVU fans in our area of Southern West Virginia.”

Warden’s son Wills, age 15, said “I like all of it, it’s really great.”

Bill Hanks of Kegley told what he thought was the best part of the evening.

“I enjoyed the meal. I’ll be right up front with you,” Hanks said with a laugh. “It was great and I am fascinated with the number of people that came out and supported WVU athletics.”

After the meet and greet the crowd moved to the center’s lobby for the dinner buffet before moving back into the auditorium to hear from the coaches.

Local caravan committee member Jim Ferguson got things started, reporting that for the third consecutive year at the Mathena Center, all 300 available tickets had been sold. He then stated the BCS era has ended and reeled off WVU accomplishments — the school with the most BCS wins without a loss, three; the most points scored in a BCS win, 70; the widest BCS victory margin, 37 points, and the lowest ranked BCS team to win a game, No. 11 when it beat Oklahoma.

Garcia was introduced and the event became a combination between a political rally and a revival as he led the crowd in cheers of “Let’s Go Mountaineers,” before emcee Caridi took to the podium.

Caridi first honored Joe Graham, caravan committeeman, who is the only person who has served on the planning group for all 44 years of the Mercer County event. Graham received a standing ovation from those gathered and was presented a Mountaineer statue by Garcia.

Attendees were able to write questions to the coaches, some of which Caridi presented. Huggins reported the signing of a 6’1 guard (Jaysean Paige) today who shot 44 percent from three point territory. That the most serious news of the evening.

The light-hearted event included the coaches poking fun at each other, but questions were answered.

Carey when asked which conference was better, the Big East or the Big 12, said, “The Big 12 is better top to bottom than the Big East. The Big East is more athletic, the Big 12 has more size.”

Carey gave credit to Huggins saying, “I’ve learned more from Coach Huggins defensively than anybody else.” Carey admitted to watching the men’s team practice and then applying defensive principles to his women’s team. Carey was Big 12 Women’s Coach of the Year as the Mountaineers were regular season co-champions and won 31 games, a school record.

Holgorsen was asked if the offense will operate more quickly since the team is more experienced this year.

“I’d  like to... I’d like to keep trying to go as fast as we can... We’re going to pick the pace up.”

Butts said the competition in the Big 12 is great for gymnastics. Oklahoma won the national championship and the Big East did not sponsor the sport.

Last week two men’s basketball players transferred and one left to play professionally in France. Caridi pointed out that there have been nearly 600 players transfer in Division I programs and asked Huggins why.

“No. 1 they can’t play. No. 2, they can’t guard and thirdly there are so many influences and everybody thinks they are better than what they are. It’s an epidemic,” Huggins said.

On an Atlantic Coast Conference experimenting with a 30 second shot clock instead of a 35 second shot clock in its exhibition games this coming season, Huggins shared his thoughts.

“The shorter the shot clock, the better chance the better team will win,” Huggins said.

All four of the coaches agreed that moving to the Big 12 has changed recruiting, that they are turning more to the Midwest and that Eastern schools are using the fact that the Mountaineers no longer play along the East Coast against them. However, they all believe that they will be able to recruit to the level to compete in the conference.

Many expected athletic director Oliver Luck to attend, but Luck is currently in Spain, reportedly teaching a week-long course at a Spanish university in sports management.

— Contact Bob Redd at bredd@bdtonline / Twitter @bdtredd.

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