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Justin Jackson: In final days, Josh Eilert reflects on what might have been at WVU

Mar. 5—MORGANTOWN — The clock doesn't stop ticking for no one, and what was once months is now down to its final days for Josh Eilert and his tenure as the WVU men's basketball coach.

Very soon it will be hours, then minutes and then, well, a new beginning for the program.

"It hasn't soured it any way, " Eilert said Tuesday, on his outlook on remaining in the coaching profession. "At the end of the day, it's about pouring yourself into young men who are going to become fathers and husbands. If you can have a positive impact, it goes way beyond basketball."

In his mind, Eilert wants to still be coaching next season. In his heart, he's likely already come to terms that he won't be the head coach at West Virginia, in that the Mountaineers' 9-20 overall record this season hasn't been anything close to a joyride for all involved.

WVU STATS Which brings us to Wednesday's Senior Day home finale against TCU (19-10, 8-8 Big 12), a 7 p.m. tip-off that will celebrate six WVU seniors.

Jesse Edwards, Akok, Akok, RaeQuan Battle and Quinn Slazinski are fifth-year seniors.

Kerr Kriisa and Pat Suemnick will earn their college degrees in May, and while they both still have the COVID year of eligibility remaining, they will walk, too.

Noah Farrakhan is also a senior, but he will not earn his degree this semester and still has eligibility remaining, so he won't walk.

Outside of Suemnick, the rest of that group were in Morgantown for such a short amount of time, less than a year.

They were part of a highly-regarded transfer portal class that seemingly couldn't get off the launching pad.

You know all the reasons, whether it be NCAA eligibility, NCAA suspensions, medical issues or injuries. In the end, that group will have only played a handful of games together at the same time.

What if that wasn't the case, though ? What if all of them were available from Day 1 and throughout the season ?

"It would have been a significant difference for sure, " Eilert said. "If we had gone to Italy with a full roster (over the summer), and you're building those relationships and building that chemistry in August rather than trying to figure out the last two or three pieces of the roster ..."

It didn't happen that way, obviously, but it will always be the one unknown if anyone ever decides to look back on this 2023-24 season in the years to come.

The hope was there back in November for this team simply because someone ranked this transfer group ahead of so many others.

Now, we're not sure if that someone truly knew what they were talking about, but the ranking was there, it created some hype and we all rolled with it.

What are we to think now, though ?

There is no doubt Edwards is talented and his abilities at 6-foot-11 are unique to any other big man at WVU since, well, maybe generations have passed since the program has had someone like him.

So, he is different. He is unique. He is fun to watch.

Different does not mean better, though. Unique does not mean he's well suited for 18 games of Big 12 action.

Kriisa plays with no restraint, an open style of play that resembles what the best players do on the playground.

He is entertaining beyond all else. Talented ? You bet.

Battle is an offensive dynamo, with the ability to make tough shots. It's probably been since the days of Frank Young has WVU had a player who could take any shot and expect to make it.

In the Big 12, you've got to man up and play defense, too, which is where both Kriisa and Battle never quite matched up.

It's more than just saying defense is a factor. In the Big 12, it's a way of life.

"There is a lot of skill, " Eilert said of his group. "Talent takes time to gel. We never really had that time to gel, or I was naive enough to think it would gel immediately, which was never the case.

"The biggest problem for us is size and strength. Size and strength in this league are critical, and I don't think we had enough to compete night in and night out. In a lot of ways, we had the skill, but we lacked the physicality to compete night in and night out. That was our biggest challenge."

Had this become truly an open court type of team putting up 85 points a game, which is probably what Eilert had envisioned in the beginning, things may have been a little different.

For so many reasons it never materialized, and we may never know what this group's full potential was.

That may go for Eilert, too, who won't be celebrated on Senior Day, but it may just be his final game in the WVU Coliseum, too.

"I haven't put too much thought into that, " he said. "I've been here 17 years in about every capacity. I'm not going to let those emotions get the best of me. I'm going to take the opportunity to be there.

"I think as a society we have a hard time living in the present. We worry about the past and we're concerned with what the future might hold, but we never appreciate the present. I've got one more opportunity, I know that for sure. I'm going to go out there with a smile on my face."

TCU at WVU WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday WHERE: WVU Coliseum TV: ESPN + (Online subscription needed)

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