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WVU’s Huggins Can Spin Tales With Best

November 16, 2010
By JIM ELLIOTT, Staff Writer

MORGANTOWN - I like Bob Huggins.

No, it's not because his teams win basketball games, it's how they win basketball games.

The man has 671victories and has taken two teams to the Final Four. It's a resume that will likely land him in the College Basketball Hall of Fame someday, no matter what that news might do to Rick Reilly's lunch.

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Bob Huggins

But that's not what impresses me about him.

It's his Morgantown/Midvale, Ohio, upbringing that, frankly, maybe all of us should have tasted at one point in our lives.

He often tells the stories of Midvale, a town of 500 people, two stop lights and nine bars, he says. They're punch-the-clock, lunch-pail types who leave the complaints at the door and do what people expect of them. He's made famous the pickup truck driver who seemingly by choice had no rear-view mirror, a life philosophy of only looking forward, not back. (Even in those tough economic times, it couldn't have been a financial decision, as you can pick up a rearview mirror adhesive kit today for $1.85).

Huggins waxed about Midvale again the other day when tackling a question about molding ''everyday'' players, something he said is a reference to a player who does not take plays off.

''Everybody I grew up with worked in the coal mine, the steel mill, or the brick yard - you don't play there, now,'' Huggins said. ''People went to work. If you showed up at work and didn't work, they'd fire your ass. So I grew up with people who had to work. That's what I expect.''

That's not always an easy expectation when you're dealing with four- and five-star basketball recruits from backgrounds that are a planet away from Midvale and who are generally used to having things come to them with ease.

It sometimes takes years to develop those types of players - Da'Sean Butler was one last year, but not as a junior or a sophomore - and Huggins does not have that kind of time.

That's why he keeps a treadmill close during practices.

''They can't tell you I don't go out there and coach,'' Huggins said. ''They can't tell you that not one day I didn't coach. So I'm not going to let them go out there and have one day they don't come out and play. That's just what it is.

''But I think that's why we've been so successful is because we do show up every day. If you don't show up every day in practice, you're not going to show up every day and play in the game. I just don't get that - 'we weren't up for the game.' Who cares? Play, man.''

Essentially, here's what Huggins, and other coaches of premier programs deal with:

These kids come in, they've averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds per game while dominating the high school competition without breaking a sweat. They rarely guard the other teams' best player because they'll foul out.

''And that's bad coaching,'' Huggins said. ''So the guys that we get haven't been asked to defend. They've been asked to score.

"You get a big guy, he's used to standing there blocking shots or reaching over and grabbing rebounds and now all of a sudden we tell them you have to move your feet, you have to get out and hard hedge on ball screens, you have to show on curls, you have to front the post, you have to help, and not just help, but you have to help and recover.''

Sensory overload, for sure.

This is why not only do you not see those 20-point scorers jump right in and continue to score 20 points at WVU, it's why you rarely see those players jump right in, period.

Casey Mitchell and Danny Jennings, to name a couple, were big-time prospects on last year's team. For a while there during the middle part of last season, they were in witness protection, seemingly learning how to not take plays off.

They were learning what the guys in Morgantown and Midvale already knew.

Hard work and attention to detail pays off. And bills.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at:

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