MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The WVU men’s basketball team can’t seem to catch a break, but interim head coach Josh Eilert is still smiling.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Eilert’s final podium session before the start of the regular season Monday night against Missouri State.
No playing the victim
This week in WVU hoops news, top-rated transfer-portal guard and projected starter Kerr Kriisa was suspended nine games after receiving impermissible benefits during his time at the University of Arizona. Eilert also noted Thursday that forward Akok Akok’s timeline to return is still to be determined after his medical emergency in last week’s scrimmage against George Mason.
“We’re about as low as it gets, I think, at this point and we still got a smile on our face [and] we’re still coming to work,” Eilert said. “It certainly presents a challenge, but within challenges and adversity come a lot of opportunities to learn and grow.”
Next men up
With Kriisa’s suspension, junior guard Kobe Johnson will step up as the team’s starting point guard for the start of the season. Iona transfer Quinn Slazinski will transition to the role of starting power forward in Akok’s place after operating as the team’s sixth man in the exhibition vs. George Mason.
“We’ve got an opportunity in front of us and we’re going to take full advantage of our opportunity,” Eilert said. “A lot of guys have sat and put the time in and went through the process. Now it’s time to step up and take advantage of those opportunities.”
Redshirt freshman Jeremiah Bembry – who has not played a game in college – will be the team’s backup point guard in Kriisa’s absence.
Missouri State travels to Morgantown coming off a season in which they finished as the No. 6 team in the Missouri Valley Conference, one of the most esteemed mid-major conferences in college hoops.
“They’re a good opponent from a very good conference,” Eilert said. “[They] won 17 games last year. Dana Ford has done a really good job with them. They fought some injuries last year, but they’ve got some really good pieces, and they do some things that could disrupt us, in terms of what they do defensively.”
The Bears also have a leg up on WVU in the scouting department. The Mountaineers’ exhibition against George Mason was televised and is accessible, while Missouri State’s two tune-up games during the preseason were either behind closed doors or not broadcasted publicly.
“It certainly presents a challenge for us because they’ve seen us play against George Mason, and we won’t get a chance to see them.”