MORGANtown – It started quietly in the shadows of what should have been Bob Huggins’ finest moment. His coaching career spanned 40 years, and he was close to 900 wins, becoming the most decorated college basketball coach and, yes, a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
He was a West Virginia state treasure, but there were whispers that changing times might have caught up with him, and when he produced a 2024 16-17 sub-. 500 record with only a 4-14 record in Big 12 competition and a season without a postseason tournament, he Huggins made a significant change and took trusted assistant Jay Kuntz and moved him from assistant to head coach to director of personnel/recruiting for the Mountaineers.
It proved to be a stroke of genius, he took a tireless worker unencumbered by previous ways of doing a job that required endless dedication and he believed in analytics and he wasn’t really making a leap in the transfer gate era and there’s no mess in it. is today.
Kuntz’s business started last year flipping the roster and doing it now… there was no time to slowly rebuild through the traditional method of bringing in and developing freshmen.
“This is a program with rich traditions and people believe you can win the old-fashioned way, but at the end of the day if we don’t adapt and change with the times, we’ll never win.”
But that is the case and last season they proved why it was so important with the additions of Eric Stevenson, Trey Mitchell, Joe Toussaint and Emmett Matthews across the gate giving them what they needed to take the first step towards the back. summit.
“Last year, the whole thing was we had to do a stark heart at the top and make it quick. There was a whole lot of what we needed,” he told Mike Casaza of 247Sports in a recent podcast. He played at the Power 5 level, which played “Big Boy Basketball” and big minutes in place of an unproven man.
“At that moment, we couldn’t afford to miss it.”
There was an underestimation of the situation. WVU was losing its grip on its place in college basketball and didn’t want to let it slip away.
“So, this is a storied program,” Koontz said. “Why go after a kid in 2024-23 when the fanbase, the people in the department, everyone who is counting on us…and that’s the beautiful thing about this state, West Virginia football, West Virginia basketball is the beating heart of this state and they deserve The best and that’s what we try to give them.
“Why would you go get a kid who might take some time to develop his game, you don’t have that time to develop a kid like that. Our job is to win matches too.” A lot of people would say they miss the old-fashioned way of bringing in high school kids. I do, too. I’m from that era, but at the end of the day, you have to ask is it worth losing seasons and upsetting your fanbase because you don’t win.
“Winning is different, it’s special and the fan base deserves it.”
Koontz was tasked with making this change. It wasn’t just him, all the staff involved, but he was the guy in the office at midnight or 2am, studying the big board he calls “The Great Wall” in his office… studying movies, analytics, rosters, player availability.
Jose Perez, the high-scoring guard from Manhattan who needed an NCAA waiver, was the first really big player after the quartet of Matthews, Stephenson, Toussaint, and Mitchell to ultimately not get his waiver.
“This year, if Jose is eligible, I still think we’re in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament,” Koontz said.
The number one goal was to get back to respectability, to a winning record, to the NCAA Tournament and no one doubts that had Perez been vacated, they would have broken 20 wins and been more powerful in the conference.
Perez is back this year, as are Mitchell and Toussaint. Losses were heavy with Stevenson, Matthews and Kedrian Johnson again making time a factor in maintaining momentum, and Koontz diving head first into the gate, allowing Huggins to stir up not only the crown jewel of their recruit, Syracuse 6-11 big man Jesse Edwards, but to be recognized. It has been recognized as Transportation Gateway Employment Category 2 in the country by at least one expert.
Edwards joined Arizona guard Kerr Kressa, one of the top guards in the gate, and Hofstra moved on to Omar Silverio, with a couple of other top line targets, including former Iowa State guard Caleb Grill.
To show what kind of player WVU has become in the gate, Edwards’ final three players were the Mountaineers, Kansas, and Gonzaga.
Edwards gives WVU an inside scoring presence, having shot 59% last season, and tremendous inside depth with James Okonkwo, Mo Wago and possibly Jimmy Bell Jr. currently trying to see if he can make it to the football roster.
True, Edwards is a one-year transfer, but that’s due to urgency and the times we’re living in right now… The mantra of college sports is simply living in the moment.
The ultimate goal is to produce a winning product.
“It’s a really different ball game,” Koontz said. “We have a Hall of Fame head coach that the country adores and they should, he’s a treasure.” We do things the right way. We always have. This is my alma mater. I have so much love and care for this university.”
There is one red flag to raise and that includes zero money. He needs an organization and a way to have an evening off the field or schools like WVU may not be able to keep up with Jones as represented by the likes of Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan and Penn State.
The numbers have gone up astronomically.
“You wonder how long it’s sustainable. Some places have different types of resources but sustainability at most colleges, I can’t see it going for long,” Koontz said. “This position for me is like I’m a general manager and it hits you sometimes. I’ve heard numbers that are hard to believe, a million and then $800,000 and that’s just beginning.”
A lot of the numbers you hear given kids are exaggerated, but the trend is up, not down, and it completely changes the face of college athletics.