A couple weeks ago West Virginia University Basketball Coach Bob Huggins received a double dose of good news when highly regarded center Aaric Murray announced that he was transferring to West Virginia. That was followed by the announcement of forward Kevin Jones that he would remove his name from the NBA draft and return to WVU for his senior season.
Last week the news was a little more dubious when Dalton Pepper announced he was transferring out of the WVU program after his sophomore season. The news wasn’t a complete shock, because there have been rumblings almost since his arrival in Morgantown two years ago that he wasn’t entirely happy in Morgantown. The most surprising aspect of Pepper’s decision is that he decided to leave now instead of last season.
In a recent interview, Huggins suggested that Pepper would be favored to earn a starting position for the upcoming season. That would seem to be what the Philadelphia area native would want, at least enough to keep him in the program.
Apparently not. So far there has been a mention that Pepper’s father may have health issues which may have contributed to the decision, but that reference was vague. Initial reports suggested that Pepper would be transferring to Temple. Those reports were unconfirmed at last glance.
Pepper has flirted with success in his two years in the WVU program, but always seemed to be on Huggins’ short leash. Pepper’s three steals in the final minutes of West Virginia’s first round win over Clemson last March was the stuff of which legends are made. I’m not sure how legend status is affected by transferring.
From this writer’s eyes the Pepper saga is disappointing. The 6-6, 230 swing guard was a physical player with a nice three point shot and rebounding ability who struggled to find his niche in Huggins’ system.
As a freshman Pepper looked confident, like he was poised to make a positive statement about his career at WVU. As that initial season wore on, Pepper’s body language seemed to change. He became more apprehensive.
Speaking only from personal observations, Pepper’s sophomore campaign picked up much like his freshman season ended. He appeared to be tentative, playing like he was afraid to make a mistake. Playing with that mindset almost always leads to…. a mistake. Pepper’s fear, if you want to call it that, seemed justified, because when he did make the mistake he was usually back on the bench in short order. Huggins did not give Pepper much rope.
Pepper’s stronger outings last year usually coincided with times when he was allowed to play through a mistake or two or three. This is not an indictment on Huggins’ coaching style, far from it. By almost all accounts his players eventually embrace his tough love approach to coaching, because they know the difference between the coaching method and the man who is the coach.
From the outside looking in, and this could be way off, but it looked like Huggins and Pepper couldn’t quite get on the same page. That’s too bad, because Pepper really did seem on the verge of reaching his potential, a potential that would lend itself perfectly to Huggins style of play, if he could have just bought into what the coach was selling.