By Bill Nestor
A new era began in Morgantown recently when West Virginia’s men’s basketball team opened up its season at home against Missouri State. Josh Eilert made his head coaching debut in the Colosseum in front of 9,691 fans.Prior to the tip off of the opener, Eilert had an abundance of hugs from several family members and friends, some of whom received multiple embraces prior to the jump ball.
One of the most unique occurrences that I have ever witnessed prior to the tip took place just before the lock-up. As the players for both teams were in place, including the two set to jump center, a delay was utilized for a quick interview with Eilert. His first game at the helm of the program was even a big deal to ESPN.
The Mountaineers had to win the battle in dramatic fashion as they trailed by six points at the halftime break. A short bench (WVU dressed only nine players) and ice cold shooting (the Eers missed their last 21 field goal attempts) made for an uphill battle, but in the end, Eilert and the Mountaineers were victorious.
Quinn Slazinzski led West Virginia with 18 points and seven rebounds. Jesse Edwards recorded a double double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Seth Wilson went scoreless in the first half, but accounted for 11 second half points.
Eilert showed that he could have a career in comedy if the coaching thing doesn”t work out, giving a sharp-witted postgame comment. “That first half, I thought about changing professions,” Eilert joked, “I was like ‘what did I get myself into late in the first half,’ but they turned it around. We had a nice heart to heart at halftime and it was a tale of two halves.”
Coaching from the heart is the biggest attribute that Eilert possesses. It draws his players closer to him and it reminds some of the bond that former West Virginia head football coach Bill Stewart had with his players. Being a players’ coach isn’t easy and the tough love that is needed is sometimes hard to find.
Everyone in the state is pulling for Eilert to have a successful season. He is hard not to like because he wears his heart on his sleeve. You get the feeling that he couldn’t lie if he wanted to and he never seems like he’d want to lie to begin with, which is a breath of fresh air.
Currently this roster is extremely undermanned, However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. How much light will be determined by the NCAA.
Senior point guard Kerr Krii is smack dab in the middle of a nine game trumped up suspension by the NCAA for not jumping through the proper hoops, or not jumping through the hoops in the proper sequence (like Simon says) and once he comes back, the floor balance will be intact. Hopefully Akok Akok will be cleared soon after sitting out from suffering a medical emergency in the charity exhibition game against George Mason just prior to the start of the season.
The big question mark comes from the eligibility of RaeQuan Battle. The NCAA denied him on Oct 23, but there is hope that an appeal could land him back on the hardwood this season. Battle would undoubtedly be a difference maker for this team, which could be the reason Eilert was promoted into a permanent position. There is a great deal riding on this season for Eilert and hopefully he is able to play this campaign with a full deck!