The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

February 17, 2014

Huggins teaching team to represent the state

View from the sideline

BECKLEY — Bob Huggins is a passionate man. That’s often very evident on television when he’s in a referee’s ear or a player’s face yelling like a drill sergeant with a group of fresh Marines.

But Huggins’ passion takes form in other ways as well — many of which are ignored by the cameras and analysts at ESPN or CBS.

Following West Virginia’s 88-71 loss to Texas Saturday night in Austin, Texas, the Mountaineer coach wasn’t talking screens, jumpers or foul shots.

He wasn’t focused on defense, rebounding or passing or even the final score.

Huggins — whose team fell to 15-11 overall and 7-6 in the Big 12 with the loss to the No. 19 Longhorns — was speaking only to his fans in his postgame interview with Tony Caridi and Jay Jacobs on the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG, and his message came straight from the heart.

“I thought we were starting to get back to being West Virginia’s team,” he said, obviously upset with the performance, which came on the heels of four wins in five games that helped WVU get back in the NCAA Tournament picture. “People were saying ‘I really enjoy watching them play. They play hard. They play together. They like each other.’ To drop the ball like we did (was unacceptable). It’s not that we didn’t play hard, the execution was just very poor.”

The Morgantown native — who knows the history of WVU basketball probably better than anybody other than Mickey Furfari — went on to explain that he fully understands that losses impact more than just his team and his players, and the results mean more than what runs across the ticker on SportsCenter.

“I tried to explain to them what they represent and what West Virginia basketball means to the people of West Virginia,” he said of his postgame locker room talk with this team. “(Morgantown High School graduate) Nate (Adrian) understands. (Shady Spring High School graduate) Chase (Connor) understands. (Greenbrier East High School graduate) Richard Romeo understands. But those are guys who grew up in the state.”

For the rest of them, Huggins relayed a story about going to a mine disaster several years ago. He didn’t know what he could do, and he didn’t want to be in the way. But the Mountaineer coach wanted to help.

As he passed out T-shirts to friends and family of the miners, he was greeted by a women who had a husband and two sons in the mine. She explained to Huggins that the three men in her life all loved the Mountaineers and never missed a game on the radio or on television.

“I would like you to share with your team what they mean to my husband and sons,” she said.

And Huggins has tried to relay that message to every team since.

“I’ve tried to explain what it means when you put that (West Virginia) across your chest and walk out and represent the people of this state,” he said.

And for those devoted fans — in the mines and elsewhere — Huggins had a simple message.

“We’re going to get better,” he promised. “We have gotten better, and we’re going to continue to get better. The run ain’t over. We’ve got to go get Baylor on Saturday in the Coliseum and go from there. We’re still alive and kicking, and hopefully this makes us better.”

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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