Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Huggs Pensive After Loss
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins talked about the great pride West Virginians have in their sports teams.
Sometimes talking in a whisper, Huggins was disappointed in the way his team played, he was upset with the way the game was officiated, and he was apologetic to the people of the state for his team letting another great opportunity slip through their hands.
Recent close losses to Villanova, Pitt and Connecticut have begun to tug at his heart.
“I just told (the players) in there, ‘I don’t know if they have any idea how much (you) mean to this state and how much this state rallies around (you),’” said Huggins. “I told them this, ‘You have very few times in your life when you are special – very, very few. A lot of people never have a chance to be special.’ This group, maybe could have, should have or would have … if we close a couple of games out against some pretty good teams then we’re probably top five in the country.”
Huggins drew comparisons between the rabid interest West Virginians have for their teams to some of the other places he’s been or has seen.
“Very few people have the opportunity to be special and particularly in a place like West Virginia. Pitt has had great basketball, but they are not the Steelers. Cincinnati had great basketball when I was there, but we were not the Reds,” Huggins said. “Mountaineer football and basketball are West Virginia’s pride. We had a chance to be special and represent this state and bring so much pride and joy.”
Huggins recalled the great disappointment he had to endure watching Kenyon Martin’s college career come crashing down in the 2000 Conference USA tournament. Martin had turned down millions to return to Cincinnati for his senior season to try and win a national championship for the Bearcats.
“I had the best team in the country and it wasn’t even close. I had pros everywhere,” said Huggins. “I had the best player in the country. He came into my office in the spring and he said, ‘Huggs, what should I do?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, man, let me find out.’ So I found out that he was going to go between 18 and 21 in the draft.
“So I called him back in and he comes in and I asked him before I got into this deal, ‘What do you want to do?’ He looked at me and he said, ‘I want to win the national championship.’ He said, ‘Coach, you talked about being special and I want to win the national championship.’ He got a tear running down his cheek. I said, ‘Kenyon, I think you answered your own question,’” Huggins said.
Cincinnati was well on the way to doing that, spending almost the entire regular season No. 1 in the polls. Then Martin got his leg rolled by a St. Louis player in the Conference USA tournament quarterfinals.
“When he broke his leg I’m out on the floor and he’s hugging me and he’s crying on my shoulder,” said Huggins. “He never said one word about, ‘Oh man, there goes my pro career. Oh man, look at the money I might have lost.’ He said, ‘Man, I’m not going to be able to win the national championship. Why Huggs? Why? Why did this happen? I just wanted to win the national championship and be special.’ There was a guy who was the No. 1 pick in the draft and maybe could have been done.”
Huggins said Martin was single minded in his purpose and focus.
“That’s what he wanted to do,” said Huggins. “I told them, ‘You guys have no idea.’ When you get older and you say, ‘Man I wish I would have listened. I wish I would have …’ We all do. But this might not happen again.
“The 600 students at the Seton Hall game … they may never have another Top 10 team. It may never happen again. Everybody assumes. I know when I was at Cincinnati they assumed that we were going to be what we were year after year after year. It’s hard.”
Huggins said he had opportunities to coach in the NBA, but the NBA never appealed to him the way the college game does.
“These guys think that I want to go to the NBA,” said Huggins. “That ain’t fun. Everybody in the NBA will tell you the greatest experience they had was playing in college. Everybody. It’s fun.”
And that’s why losing rattles him to his core.
“I’m usually pretty irate when we lose because I detest losing,” said Huggins. “I’m hurt because I know what this means to the people in our state of being able to pump your chest out a little bit and say, ‘That’s my team.’
“I came back here for a reason. I didn’t come back here for anything else other than I love this university, I love this state and I love the people,” said Huggins. “If we can do something special for them, that’s what I want to do and we’re going to.”