On Sunday West Virginia received an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney despite losing to Baylor in the Big 12 tourney quarterfinals. The Mountaineers are back in the tourney for the first time since making five straight appearances from 2008-2012 and are the 5-seed in the Midwest region. They will play in Columbus on Friday afternoon against Buffalo. Earlier this week CHD’s Jon Teitel got to speak with Larry Harrison about what it is like to work for one of the winningest coaches in D-1 history.
You spent six years as head coach at Hartford from 2001-2006: what is the biggest difference between being a head coach and being an assistant coach? The biggest difference is the amount of responsibilities. As a head coach you have to juggle so many things off the court like your administration, fundraising, alumni boosters, etc., but as an assistant coach you get a few more chances to get some sleep!
In the 2010 Big East tourney as an assistant coach at West Virginia you clinched the title with three wins in three days by a total of seven points: did tourney MVP Da’Sean Butler (who made two separate game-winning shots) just put the team on his back for the entire weekend? Yes he did: he really stepped up that week and continued to play well during the NCAA tourney.
In the 2014 NIT you lost to Georgetown: what did your team learn from that game that you think can help you this year? The fact that we got back into the postseason was a good thing, but as an overall team we were probably not as focused on being together as we are this year with one team and one goal.
You lost two of your top-3 scorers from last year (Eron Harris, Terry Henderson): how has Juwan Staten performed as the leader of your team this year? He has been great: he embraced that role and was very communicative with our new guys. Both he and Gary Browne really dedicated themselves to getting into the gym and making sure the rest of our team knows how we do things at West Virginia.
You played four different tourney teams in non-conference play (Lafayette/LSU/NC ST/Wofford): which of them impressed you the most? LSU and NC State gave us some different things to be concerned about. LSU is big inside with Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin, while NC State’s guard trio of Trevor Lacey, Anthony Barber and Ralston Turner was a challenge as well.
You are one of seven teams from the Big 12 who made the NCAA tourney (four of whom are 2-seeds and 3-seeds: do you think it is the best conference in the country, and which of them do you think will go the farthest? I definitely think we have the best conference in the country: we play a round-robin schedule, which is very challenging. I really like Baylor: their length and athleticism can create a lot of problems and their zone defense is tough if they are shooting and rebounding well.
Both Staten and Gary Browne have each missed a few games due to injury: how is their health at the moment? They both practiced during the last three days so our team has high spirits even if the two guys are not 100%.
You work for Coach Bob Huggins: what makes him such a great coach, and what is the most important thing that you ever learned from him? He has a great relationship with his players. He is very demanding when they are on the floor but he gets them to play at a higher level than they might think they are capable of. When you cross those lines it is time to go to work, but he communicates with them so well off the floor that they are willing to play as hard as they can for him.
As an assistant coach in the NCAA tourney how do you keep your focus on the game at hand while also worrying about the teams you might be facing 48 hours later? We have one coach focused on Buffalo while another coach is looking at tape of Maryland and Valparaiso to get a feel for their strengths and weaknesses. It is important to be prepared, but you have to be ready for your very next game.
How do you feel about having a 5-seed, and how are you preparing to face Buffalo? We thought we would be a 5-seed, although we were a little concerned we might get a 6-seed after losing in the first round of the Big 12 tourney. We know that 5-12 games are where the most upsets occur. We have watched quite a bit of tape on Buffalo: they have taken on the competitive style of their coach (Bobby Hurley) so it will be a very challenging game. In the tourney the intensity level is a lot higher, but we feel good about our team because we are finally healthy. Our freshmen got some valuable experience when they had to fill in for Juwan and Gary so now we are a much better team.