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Harris: Viewing Huggins through his father's eyes

| Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When it comes to the animated sideline theatrics of West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins, you know what's going to happen because, well, you just know.

Huggins is going to be loud and demonstrative, seemingly never satisfied with what's transpiring on the court, whether his Mountaineers are winning or losing.

You're going to feel sorry for his players, and maybe the referees, and you may even be driven to wonder how in the world that Huggins, brass-knuckles style and all, is one of four active coaches with 700 career wins, joining Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim.

If you didn't know, and you're fortunate enough to land a seat near West Virginia's bench for Thursday's second-round NCAA Tournament game against Gonzaga at Consol Energy Center, remember to cover your ears while watching coaching genius at work.

"Bobby is more intense now than he's ever been," said Charlie Huggins, whose son is one of the most intense coaches in college basketball. "He's still the same. He's still driven. He still has that burning desire to win it all."

At 58, Huggins is pushing himself more than ever because taking two teams to the Final Four — the last time occurring two years ago — isn't enough. Not when he still hasn't played in a national championship game.

Pushing the right buttons and cajoling this year's team featuring five freshmen playing significant roles to a 19-13 record and No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament won't be nearly enough to quench the fire raging within.

For some coaches, racking up 700 wins, going to the Final Four two times while taking his alma mater to the Big Dance in each of his first five years should qualify as a resounding success.

Huggins views those accomplishments as stepping stones, rather than milestones.

"Bobby doesn't think he's really accomplished anything until he wins the NCAA Tournament," said Charlie Huggins, who won a high school state championship in Ohio with his son as his star player. "That's just his mind-set.

"The day after the season ends, he starts recruiting for the next year. He's determined, that's for sure. He goes a lot himself. He doesn't send someone else. He's not afraid to work at it. His determination is one of the reasons for his success."

That determination explains Huggins' passion. However, it doesn't begin to describe how Huggins managed to assemble this year's team around a pair of seniors — Kevin Jones, who became only the third player in Big East history to average double figures in scoring and rebounding, and Darryl "Truck" Bryant, who shot only 36 percent from the field.

Jones averaged 38.3 minutes per game, Bryant 37.3 minutes per game. Between them, they sat for less than five minutes each game. That about sums up how much Huggins values the only two seniors on this year's roster.

Huggins' reliance on Jones and Bryant is no secret. Every opponent set their defense to stop the pair from New York, while gambling that the rest of the starting lineup — junior Deniz Kilcli and freshmen Gary Browne and Jabari Hinds — couldn't pick up the slack.

Huggins, known more for his colorful sideline language than his coaching acumen, won that battle of wits. The proof is in another NCAA Tournament bid, Huggins' 20th in 27 seasons as a Division I coach.

"Bobby did better than most people thought he would," Charlie Huggins said.

Huggins returned to Ohio about a month ago to attend a friend's funeral. While there, he had a father-son talk, which isn't unusual because Huggins still incorporates the playing style he learned under his father, especially when the Mountaineers are struggling.

Dad's advice?

"We talked about what he's doing and how he can do better, some things to help certain individuals become better people and better players," Charlie Huggins said. "He's changed, but he usually comes back to (the system). It creates more opportunities. He really only has two scorers (Jones and Bryant). When someone takes that away from him, one thing will lead to another."

Another Huggins' sideline rant, or another West Virginia victory• The two apparently go hand-in-hand.

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