So, it begins
by Jim Buzzerd
I’ve been alluding for the second half of the recently concluded basketball season to several West Virginia University basketball players who may be prime candidates to enter the transfer portal. Jalen Bridges and Isaiah Cottrell were two of those I have been keeping an eye on and both announced last Wednesday that they plan to leave WVU and enter the transfer portal. So, while the decisions were no surprise, one is still left to wonder how it came to this with two starting players.
Bridges started all 33 games and Cottrell started 28 of 33 games. Bridges was third in minutes played and Cottrell was sixth. Both players were highly regarded recruits. Cottrell was rated a Top 100 player coming out of high school at Huntington prep and has three more seasons to play. Bridges is from just down the road in Fairmont. While not a national recruit, he was highly regarded and considered a good pick up by the Mountaineers and had two more seasons.
So why were they disenchanted?
I’m not going to pretend to know the answer, but I do believe social media has a role in it. Both players were seen on Twitter responding to ‘so called fans’ that had been critical of their play on the court. Two things come to mind here. Fans can be idiots, and anyone attacking a player on Titter, or any other social media platform, is an idiot. Easy for me to say, but college athletes need to understand it’s a reckless few who are the problem, most of us have their back.
Many, like myself, spend very little time on Twitter and social media in general, so these young people may not see the support that is out there for them, and who would want to wade through all that commentary anyway? When folks call Twitter the Devil or suggest it will ruin society as we know it, it’s likely these types of things they refer to.
Sometimes it’s not just the players involved in the Twitter salvos; the parents are known to make offerings as well. Hearing of all the Twitter fuss and observing the body language of the players, the bigger surprise would have been the return of Bridges and Cottrell.
I’ve yet to see a comment on the two player’s departure from head coach Bob Huggins, and there may not be one in the short term, but one must think they were a big part of his plans over the next several seasons. Each had high ceilings, but both struggled at times performing consistently.
Cottrell had the most trouble adapting to Big 12 level competition. Coming off an Achilles injury from last season no doubt held Cottrell back, but it was evident that he needed much more time to reach his potential than previously thought for a Top 100 talent. This was especially obvious on the defensive end of the floor where Cottrell was often caught standing while his opponent flashed for a layup or dunk.
Analytics folks like to point out their formula shows that the Mountaineers’ defense gives up more points per possession with Cottrell in the lineup than any other combination of players. Huggins openly questions the use of analytics and continued to start Cottrell, although at times his minutes appeared to be down. While his defense remained an issue, he showed some pop offensively late in the season.
Bridges has shown flashes of great potential over two seasons. He was second to Gabe Osabuohien in rebounds with 157 and third in blocked shots with 22. On offense the Fairmont native was off and on. He had a season high of 22 points against Oklahoma State, but there were 10 games where he scored six points or fewer. On many nights where Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil were being locked down, Bridges struggled to become the third scorer he was being counted on to be.
I’ve seen some comments that the loss of Bridges and Cottrell is addition by subtraction. The opinion here is that is not likely going to be the case. Bridges is close to being a consistent threat. If he ever handles the ball in traffic and scores, look out! Cottrell will need to put in a lot of time and work to become physical enough to be a factor on the interior of any offense or defense in college basketball. With the luck WVU has in these situations, both players will flourish elsewhere, which will bring up another batch of questions to be discussed later.
Point guard Kedy Johnson announced he will return to WVU for his senior season. The rumor mill continues to suggest Sean McNeil will not return to WVU, but as of Monday afternoon, there has been no announcement.