MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – Bob Huggins is a humble man.
Huggins has come a long way in order to get where he’s at today. The West Virginia native was working as a graduate assistant for Joedy Gardner in 1978, while his wife, June, was working concessions at the WVU Coliseum. That was their income. Now, Huggins is one of the all-time great coaches in college basketball history.
The fourth-winningest coach is just like, ‘eh, who cares?’ when you ask him about 900 wins or a statue outside of the coliseum.
“They probably should do a statue of me but it ought to be about three inches tall,” Huggins said. “Then, it wouldn’t get in Jerry [West] and Rod’s [Hundley] way.”
There’s always has been a narrative created about Huggins, by the national media, that he’s a bad guy. Casual college basketball viewers think of Huggins as, ‘the old man with the stool that yells at his players and officials a lot.’ The final straw that resulted in me writing this was the Oscar Tshiebwe feature story written by Kyle Tucker of The Athletic. In Tucker’s story, he interviews Tshiebwe about his journey to Kentucky, which would inevitably include his departure from West Virginia. Fair enough.
When asked about the decision to leave WVU and enter the transfer portal, Tshiebwe was quoted in the original story saying that Huggins told him that he’d ruin Tshiebwe’s life. The original story included claims that Huggins told Kentucky head coach John Calipari and NBA scouts that Tshiebwe smokes weed and always has different girls with him.
Once Tucker’s story was released, it spread like wildfire. Huggins was tagged as this horrible person that wants to screw this kid’s life up. Tucker and The Athletic put in an editor’s note in the story about a day or so later clearing the air on the interview’s intent, but the damage was already done.
“Everybody here knows that that’s not me,” Huggins told the WVU media the day of the released story.
When the original story from Tucker came out, I knew that wasn’t Huggs. The man has been a head coach for 40 years, at five different schools. Huggins has had hundreds of former players and not a single one has ever said a bad thing about him publicly. Yes, he will make you work your ass off in practice and may push you to your absolute breaking point, but he loves you.
Huggs ain’t say that shit
— john flowers (@jflow41) December 17, 2021
The only people that know who Huggins truly is are the people that are with him every day: his former players and the people in the state of West Virginia. Since Huggins is framed as a bad guy all the time, it’s time that we talk about the positive parts of Huggins that don’t get recognized nationally.
Huggins loves his guys. This is why he loves doing what he’s doing; he loves being around the guys. The 68-year-old tells the media that this doesn’t ever feel like a job to him and when it does, that’s when he’ll hang it up.
“Coach Huggins has a very unique way of motivating you to do things that you didn’t even know you could do,” Da’Sean Butler, WVU guard (2006-10), said. “That motivation helped instill a different kind of confidence in myself because it just made me feel like I could do anything. Any obstacle that was thrown at me in life I could figure out because of how he prepared me. I’m forever grateful that I have him as a mentor.”
The only time Huggins’ love for his players was in the national spotlight was his moment with Butler in the 2010 Final Four. After Butler went down with multiple tears in his left knee, Huggins walked onto the court in front of the whole world watching, and got down with Butler. He hugged Butler, comforting him.
This is who Huggins always is. It wasn’t for show.
If you attend any West Virginia basketball game, watch Huggins before his players take the court. The Mountaineers will come around and get a hug from Huggins.
The most underrated pregame ritual in college basketball: A hug from Huggs. pic.twitter.com/AaI1cjNi59
— Nick Farrell (@ByNickFarrell) March 19, 2021
Again, he may yell at his players during the media timeouts, or ask his players if they want to be at the game at halftime, but he does it out of love and his players know that. Huggins has given all of these kids, throughout the years, a chance. Huggins wants humble junior college players just as much as three-star recruits.
“I like junior college guys because they’re used to eating a cheese sandwich and riding in a van,” Huggins said. “They’re not spoiled with all of the amenities that you have at a place like this. JUCO guys are just like, ‘Give me that cheese sandwich.’”
Huggins started recruiting junior college players in the early 90’s at Cincinnati, bringing on Nick Van Exel, Corie Blount, Herb Jones, and Terry Nelson. In 2021, Huggins is still doing it with Taz Sherman, Sean McNeil, and Keddy Johnson.
“He’s given me an opportunity that I will never know how to repay him for,” McNeil said. “Yeah, he’s a tough guy to play for. He gets on me more than anybody I’ve ever had in my life but I know that there’s a good purpose behind it. I’m forever thankful.”
Huggins had West Virginia University build a practice facility that included an alumni locker room. Huggins also gets calls about marriage advice and hears all about the wives and girlfriends of his former players. I think I got my point across; Huggins loves his players, former and current.
Whether Tshiebwe said it or not, he’s in the heavy minority of players that have come out and said negative things about Huggins. It’s time for all of us, including Tshiebwe and Huggins, to move on. Tshiebwe is doing very well at Kentucky, while Huggins has his Mountaineers at an 11-1 record, heading into Big 12 play.
I just want the narrative to stop that Huggins is a bad guy. It’s overdone and is exhausting to hear. It would be nice to see the national media cover the other side of Huggins, who has raised millions of dollars over the years for cancer research and acted like the father figure for these college-aged kids.
But, ‘I’ want that. Huggins probably doesn’t care so much. He’s just a humble man coaching a college basketball team right now. He couldn’t care less.
(Top Photo: Julia Mellett / WVSN)