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Harris: Huggins' milestone proves his value

| Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011

Guess who's coaching as well as anyone west of Jim Boeheim and north of Mike Krzyzewski?

Bob Huggins, if you didn't know already, has arrived.

Huggins deserves major kudos after becoming the fourth active coach in college basketball with 700 career wins, a milestone he reached last week.

The other three?

Duke's Krzyzewski is No. 1, Syracuse's Boeheim is No. 2 and Connecticut's Jim Calhoun is No. 3.

So what if hardly anyone in this football-infatuated region noticed what Huggins accomplished Thursday, what with Penn State and Pitt football dominating the headlines?

Huggins prefers the noise generated by his surprising Mountaineers, who at 9-3 are performing better than expected with seven freshmen.

After putting Kansas State and Miami in their places during an impressive winning streak, Huggins recorded career win No. 700 against Missouri State at the Las Vegas Classic. A day later, the Mountaineers extended No. 6 Baylor to overtime before losing, 83-81.

Now in his 30th season, including his fifth at West Virginia, Huggins said the accomplishment of winning 700 games still hasn't sunk in.

"I'm not good at reflecting," Huggins said. "It was a heck of a win, but then you have to turn around and play Baylor the next day."

Huggins' peers didn't overlook his milestone.

"Cal called me the next day," Huggins said Monday, referring to Kentucky coach, longtime friend and Moon native John Calipari. "He said, 'That means two things.' I said, 'Yeah, I know. It means I'm old.' He said, 'Yup, that's first. Second thing is, they didn't vacate any of your wins.' "

Ha ha. Very funny. The story tells you that Huggins feels good about his young team so early in the season.

At peace with himself, Huggins hardly resembles the caricature of that angry coach who prefers sweat tops to Armani sports coats while stalking the sideline.

Indeed, Huggins felt comfortable enough two days before Wednesday's Big East Conference opener against Villanova at WVU Coliseum to share with a reporter how Calipari turned his own past misfortunes with the NCAA during coaching stops at Massachusetts and Memphis into a way of complimenting Huggins' 700 wins.

Now in his 30th season, including his fifth in Morgantown, Huggins said, "I don't think anybody wants to play us. We continue to get better and better and better."

Huggins is winning with two seniors and two freshmen in the starting lineup.

While not exactly a superstar, 6-foot-8 senior Kevin Jones, who participated in the Mountaineers' Final Four run two years ago, has become one of the Big East's most dominating players.

When defenses collapse around Jones, who's averaging 21.0 points and 11.9 rebounds, he flicks the ball outside, where the perimeter players go to work.

Jones scored 28 points and grabbed 17 rebounds against Baylor.

"What Kevin Jones has done to this point has been terrific," Huggins said. "His leadership work ethic has been great. He's going to rebound, no matter who he plays against. He proved that against Baylor. They've got supposedly two or three first-round draft picks, and he gets 28 and 17."

Here are more numbers to consider. Huggins has won 20 games in all but four of his first 29 seasons as coach, the last time occurring eight years and two schools ago at Cincinnati.

That means Huggins has won 20 or more games in 25 seasons, with another 20-win campaign looking more promising each day.

Huggins, who turned 58 in September, could reach the 800-win milestone in 2016, given his current rate.

"I don't want to be one of those guys that coast. I've always said when I don't have the passion and I don't think I can give our guys my best, I'll quit and do something else," Huggins said. "I don't know when that is. I still enjoy going to practice. I still enjoy the teaching part.

"I asked Al McGuire years ago, 'When did you realize Marquette was a national power?' He said, 'When we could go into any venue without fear.' We've been that way for a long time."

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