As Bob Huggins prepares for another season, he continues to lead, to teach and to love, all while still chasing the biggest prize in college basketball, a national championship.
15 years ago, Huggins was introduced as the West Virginia head men’s basketball coach. After traveling around from Walsh College, to Akron, to Cincinnati to Kansas State, Huggins had finally returned to the place he grew up.
Huggins was back home.
As Huggins stepped to the microphone in his introductory press conference, his message was simple, “it’s great to be home,” Huggins said. He followed saying, “this has always been a dream for me to coach here, we’re going to represent this great state well.”
Representing the state, while coaching one of the better teams in college basketball is exactly what Huggins has done.
Entering his 40th season as a men’s Division I college basketball coach, and 15th at West Virginia, Huggins currently sits sixth all-time among head basketball coaches with 900 wins, and will only need four wins this season to eclipse fourth place on the same list. Huggins, is also only one of six coaches to get to 900 wins, and is the third winningest active coach in college basketball.
What Huggins means to this state is one thing, but what this state means to Huggins is another. Huggins once shared how his dream and final goal before retirement is to be able to go around the state with the national championship trophy, and hang a national championship banner in the WVU Coliseum.
“I love this university, this university has been great to me,” Huggins said. “Would I like to go win a national championship for the people in this state? There’s nothing I want to do more than win a national championship for the people in this state.”
Going and winning that national championship is something Huggins has come so close to in his career, but has never gotten to the top of the college basketball world.
In 1992, Huggins came close to winning a national championship. Huggins led Cincinnati to a 29-5 record, with the Bearcats eventually losing to Michigan in the Final Four.
Almost two decades later at West Virginia, Huggins lead his alma mater to the Final Four. The rest is history for West Virginia fans, losing to Duke, and the heartbreak that followed.
The one image that remained however was an image of Huggins’ love for his players. Da’Sean Butler, the unequivocal leader for the Mountaineers that season, had just suffered a gruesome knee injury. With the world watching, it was Huggins with a tear in his eye, kneeling down, both arms around Butler, comforting him and showing how much his player’s truly mean to him.
Last season, after picking up his 900th win, it was Huggins receiving the love instead of giving it. After the final buzzer sounded, Huggins’ players surrounded him. They all smiled, cheered, and truly showed the impact he has on his guys.
Following the game, Huggins said he wanted to win his 900th game and have it serve as a memory for his players, rather than a memory for himself.
“I love those guys and it’s gratifying they can be a part of it. They enjoy it a lot more than I do. They have something to look back on and share with whomever, hopefully its one of the positive things that happen in their athletic career,” Huggins said. “We got good guys, we got really good guys.”
Heading into this season, Huggins will have a new challenge ahead of him. With the losses of Miles McBride and Derek Culver, this team will look a lot different to start the season.
Huggins has built his brand of basketball on the ability to rebound and play defense, however a couple weeks ago, Huggins was unsure of his team’s defensive capability, and showed the coaching side of him.
“We suck,” Huggins said of his defenses performance as the Mountaineers are working their way towards the start of the season.
The way Huggins can draw the line between his fierce coaching style and still being compassionate when he needs to be is exactly why his players, and fans fall in love with him. As well as Huggins, this team hopes they can win a national championship for West Virginia, but more importantly for their head coach.
“I want to give Huggs a national championship,” senior guard Taz Sherman said. “He’s been super close and I feel like we’ve had teams since I’ve been here that could’ve done it. I feel like this year could be one of those years.”
15 years after he began his coaching career at West Virginia, 40 years, after he began his coaching career in general, 44 years after he wore the gold and blue for West Virginia, and 68 years after he was born in Morgantown, the future hall of famer is still trying to get to the top, and when he does, he will share that moment with everyone in the state of West Virginia.
“What we need to do is if we need to get a bus and just travel around the state with the national championship trophy and wouldn’t it be great to have Tony Caridi on the radio say, ‘Hey, listen, we are going to be in Jane Lew in about fifteen minutes. If anyone wants to come touch the trophy, meet at the hotdog shop.’”
Until then, he will keep going, keep pushing, and keep trying to be the last team to cut the net’s down. And if he does that, he will be done, and he will have accomplished what he has always set out to do, bring a trophy home to the state of West Virginia.
“Then, I think, I’d be done,” Huggins said. “There’d be nothing left to do and I’d be ready to retire.”