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Andy Katz | Correspondent | August 7, 2018

Huggins says West Virginia's front court can match up with anybody

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West Virginia basketball must replace Jevon Carter on the perimeter, but the team may be able to make up for his absence with the best front court in the country.

Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins raved about the possibilities and options he will have up front when the season begins this fall. WVU returns one of the most intimidating shot blockers in 6-8 Sagaba Konate as well as a slew of options in 6-8 Esa Ahmad, 6-10 Derek Culver, 6-9 Andrew Gordon, 6-8 Wes Harris, 6-11 Logan Routt and 6-8 Lamont West.

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“Our frontline can match with anybody in the country,’’ Huggins said on the podcast March Madness 365. “If it’s not the best, it’s close. We’ve just got to get these guards ready to play. That’s all.’’

The guards Huggins is referencing are a committee, including freshmen Trey Doomes and Jordan McCabe, junior Jermaine Haley, redshirt freshman Brandon Knapper.

“It will be a matter of which one of them learns how to play the soonest,’’ said Huggins.

Huggins said Konate has spent a lot of time working on becoming a better jump shooter this summer.

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He also discussed how he has been able to have such a strong bond with his players, including Kenyon Martin and Nick Van Exel, during the numerous stops in his career. He said he was blessed throughout his career with assistants like Brad Underwood who love basketball.

Underwood, the second-year Illinois head coach, also joined this week's podcast. He credited Huggins as one of his mentors that helped him get to where he is now in the profession.

Underwood said Huggins is “one of the elite human beings, one of the kindest people.’’ He said Huggins should be in the Hall of Fame and called him a “dear friend and confidant’’ who he talks to nearly every day. “I’m here today because of the opportunity he gave me,’’ Underwood said.

Meanwhile, Underwood said the Illini are discovering their identity this summer.

“We’re going to be a team that plays aggressively, that plays tough every play,’’ Underwood said. “We won’t take plays off. You’ll have to bring it. We’re everyday guys. That’s who we are.’’

Underwood said he is coaching a style that fits Chicago and the state of Illinois: hard-working and tough.

Underwood broke down Trent Frazier on the podcast too, saying the rising sophomore is “fearless.” He added, “There aren’t too many players where you can say you can’t guard him. He can get his shot off against anybody.’’

Illinois could be picked low in the Big Ten but may be a surprise by the season’s end.

“We’ll be a better team in December than November and better in January,’’ Underwood said. “We will play with a lot of youth and continue to gain confidence and experience. By the time we get to the meat of league play, we’ll be a very solid Illinois team.’’

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