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Up Close with Bob Huggins

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Bob Huggins took over the basketball program at his alma mater in 2007 after one year at Kansas State and an impressive 16-year run at Cincinnati, during which he took the Bearcats to 14 straight NCAA Tournaments.

He guided the Mountaineers to the Final Four in 2010, where they lost to Duke, and he won his 700th game as a head coach in 2011, becoming one of just four active coaches with 7oo wins. PSR Editor Tony DeFazio caught up with Huggins earlier this summer as he was preparing for WVU’s second season in the Big 12.

DeFazio: You talked about the brutal Big 12 travel schedule impacting your team last year. Was that the biggest challenge in the transition to the Big 12?
Huggins: I think it was really the style of play. I think the style of play was a lot different than what we expected. Style of play was so much different than the Big East. The officiating was much different than in the Big East. And then yes, obviously the travel was so much different.

DeFazio: You have some level of control over how your team plays, and even how you adjust to officiating, but how can you combat the travel schedule?
Huggins: The Big 12 is well aware of our situation. We were at the league meetings not long ago and I think they are very committed to doing whatever they can do to make it a little easier.

I think if we can get things worked out from a scheduling standpoint the way we talked about doing it differently at the meetings, I think that's going to alleviate a whole lot of that. Instead of having to make nine trips out there, we'll only have to make maybe six or seven, which makes a huge difference.

DeFazio: In addition to the conference switch and everything that came with that, you lost a lot of personnel last season. Has that roster overhaul been an additional challenge?
Huggins: Yeah I think it was a little bit of everything. Certainly losing Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant, who had been pretty much four-year starters for us, that's going to have an effect on anybody. But I think it was more than that.

You build your team to be able to win, and win in league play. And when the style of play is as drastically different as it was from the Big East to the Big 12, you think you're going to be able to compensate and obviously we weren't able to.

DeFazio: West Virginia had a lot of transfers the past two seasons, but that's hardly unique. There are over 450 kids who have transferred across Division 1 basketball this off-season. Why has that number risen so dramatically?
Huggins: I don't know. I can only speculate like most people do, but kids just aren't willing to wait. I think that's the biggest thing. You go back here, before I got here, and Alex Ruoff played very little his freshman year and then had three great years. Joe Alexander played very little as a freshman and had two great years. Joe Mazzula same way. But they were willing to wait. And it just doesn't appear that today's kids are as willing to wait.

I read something about the amount of transfers at Arizona (seven former Arizona players were at other schools last season) and you would think with the success that Sean (Miller) has had that guys wouldn't be leaving. But obviously they are. And at what some people would say is an alarming rate. But I don't know if it's alarming. I just think that's the way it is.

When you've got 400 kids transferring in a year? OK. That's a lot now. It didn't used to be that way.

DeFazio: That seems to lead to teams replacing kids who transfer out with kids who are transferring in. Is it more difficult acclimate a transfer to your system than it is a kid you've been recruting since he was 16 or 17 years old?
Huggins: I think most of that's a fallicy, recruiting kids from the time they're 16 or 17. I think we go out and watch them in AAU and obviously you try to watch them when they're younger but we don't have a whole helluva lot of personal contact with them. So you probably don't get to know them as well as you used to get to know them because you're not allowed to have the personal contact that we once were.

WVUBut transfers aren't bad in a lot of instances if you transfer for the right reasons. I transferred. I transferred in here to West Virgnia (after spending his freshman season at Ohio) and had a great career. It's the best thing that ever could have happened to me. You look at guys in our business - Cal (Kentucky head coach John Calipari) transferred (Calipari lettered two years at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington before transferring to Clarion University). There's a whole bunch of guys in our business that have transferred for whatever reason. Sometimes it's a situation where you maybe went a little higher than you should have went. Sometimes you have a coaching change and the philosophy is totally different. The style of play becomes totally different. Sometimes you have some things that come up at home. Illnesses and those kind of things where you're forced to go home and be closer to take care of family. There are tons and tons of reasons why kids transfer.

I don't think it always is negative. I think it can be and there are instances where it is, but there are also instances were it is a good thing.

DeFazio: You added former Duquesne head coach Ron Everhart to your staff before last season. Were you surprised Ron was available?
Huggins: Was I surprised he was available? No, not really, because I talked to Ronny quite a bit during the course of the year and obviously when everything happened he called me and actually he came to see me, so I probably was as aware of what was going on as anybody was.

DeFazio: Should he have been available?
Huggins: I've got a hard enough time coaching my own team.

DeFazio: Ron took a program that had two winning seasons in 25 years and was .500 or better his last five. Do programs sometimes wrongly assume the grass will be greener with a coaching change?
Huggins: I think it happens, sure. Sure. I just talked to you about kids tranferring when there are coaching changes. When there are adminstrative changes sometimes there are changes in philosophy. A lot of things can happen. I do think that there are times when people think the grass will be greener and all of a sudden they find out it's really not. Sometimes, it's like they say, be careful what you wish for.

DeFazio: You've been coaching for over 35 years now. Do you ever allow yourself to think about your legacy?
Huggins: No. I don't look backwards. There was this guy who used to pick us up and take us to go play basketball before we could drive or anything. And one day I was sitting in the car and I said, "There's no rearview mirror in here." And he said, "Boy we ain't goin' backwards."

So not while I'm coaching... but you know what, I had a year off and I didn't think about all that. I don't know what positive comes from looking backwards.

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