The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

April 14, 2010

West: Huggins one of the most underrated coaches

MORGANTOWN — The legendary Jerry West will tell you that West Virginia University is lucky to have Bob Huggins as its basketball coach.

“He is one of the most underrated coaches in the country and one of the best,” WVU’s greatest player in history declared in a recent interview.

“He has coached a long time (28 years) and his teams are tough-minded. They are extremely well coached and they play really hard.”

A media type told West, “I think he’s a great coach.” West replied emphatically, “I don’t think. I know.”

There was no disputing that. After leading West Virginia to three of its greatest seasons, West was a superstar 14 years in the National Basketball Association. Then he coached the Los Angeles Lakers for three years or so.

I always felt that he was such a perfectionist as a 6-foot-3 player that he did not coach longer because he couldn’t stand mediocrity.

West’s son, Jonnie, did not see as much action on this year’s team as he would have liked. His role as a junior guard was to make a field goal, preferably a three-pointer, when needed most.

“Jonnie has grown bigger and stronger and obviously would have liked to play more,” his famous father said. “But he understands.

“He loves all his teammates and he has a good relationship with coach Huggins. He and the others were excited reaching the NCAA tournament Final Four.”

However, the loss to hot-shooting Duke was a bitter disappointment to the Mountaineers, just as the 71-70 defeat by California 51 years ago was to Jerry West and his teammates.

The elder West noted even before Huggins knelt over a seriously injured Da’Sean Butler with 8:59 left in the game that Huggins had a reputation of being extremely close and caring for all his players.

Huggins, a Morgantown native, played three years as a Mountaineer guard in the mid-1970s, guided the 2009-10 team to a 31-7 record, the Big East Tournament championship, No. 6 final ranking in the Associated Press poll and a 13-5 conference mark for a second-place tie in the league standings. All of those were the best in school history except the final ranking. The 1957-58 team finished No. 1 in the final AP rankings.

Huggins’ three-year record at WVU is 80-40, and he took all three teams to the NCAA Tournament. His career record for 28 years as a head coach is 670-241.

West Virginia’s No. 2 seeding in the NCAA East Regional was the highest ever. And WVU knocked off regional No. 1 seed and tournament favorite Kentucky.

The 31 victories tied Huggins’ career high for a season. His 2001-02 Cincinnati team went 31-4.

This was his second Final Four appearance. The 1992 Bearcats lost to Michigan 76-72.

This year’s Top 10 finish was the eighth by Huggins and this was his 18th NCAA Tournament appearance as a Division I coach. Only four active head coaches have made more appearances.

The Mountaineers had won 10 in a row before bowing to Duke, the eventual NCAA champion. They also won 12 of the last 14 and 18 of the last 22 contests this year.

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