Monday, April 5, 2010
Truly a Huggy Bear
One of the best photos of the year in sports!
Another great article on Bob Huggins from Thomas Beisner. I have always had great respect for Huggins. I also went to his basketball camp and got to see Huggins in a different light, just like the entire nation did Saturday night.
If you're a West Virginia fan, things really couldn't have gone much worse for you on Saturday night. Your team got beaten on the boards and their usually stout defense suddenly disappeared, allowing Duke to shoot 53% from the field and their "Big 3" of Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith to combine for 63 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds. And, worst of all, your All-American senior Da'Sean Butler put up one of the worst stat lines you could have hoped for: 10 points, three rebounds and one awful knee injury.
It was that knee injury, though, which occurred about midway through the second half, that gave West Virginia something they could smile about on a night that they'd been waiting for since 1959.
Mountaineer fans don't have to be told what a great coach they have in Morgantown. They've seen it on the court the past three years as the homegrown coaching titan has racked up 80 wins, 31 of which came this year. But, outside of West Virginia's state lines, Bob Huggins' name doesn't quite carry the same reverence.
Few coaches in the game get as much flack from fans and media as Bob Huggins (including the devilish one on the opposing sideline for this game). Some of it's because he's short with the media. Some of it is because of the physical nature of his teams. Some probably stems from his DUI arrest and, honestly, some of it is probably because the guy has more track suits than Carl Lewis. But, as his star player laid twisting in pain after his leg gave out on him, Bob Huggins was as far removed from that "monster in a track suit" reputation he's found affixed to himself.
After taking a verbal shot at the referee in defense of Butler, Huggins huddled over the senior, held his head and tried to calm him down by whispering closely. He wiped tears off of Butler's eyes and clutched him as if he was his own child. When it was time for Butler to leave the court, Bob Huggins stood, visibly shaken and teary-eyed.
It was a glimpse into a close bond that Huggins so famously develops between his players and, I'm proud to say, it's the type of kindness that I've been privileged to experience.
When I was 13, I attended the Bob Huggins Basketball Camp at the University of Cincinnati and, despite being about 6'5" and in the eighth grade, no one was mistaking me for a prospect. I was one of the kids who was there just to step on the floor at the Shoemaker Center and see Danny Fortson up close. You didn't have to pass a skills test to get into the camp and I can promise you that none of the coaches were starting a "Thomas Beisner" file.
I learned pretty quickly, though, that that didn't really matter much.
On one of my first nights at the camp, stuck without a roommate or a television, I left the dorm and wandered over to the gym, figuring that I'd just shoot around and kill some time. After messing around for awhile, I heard someone walking through the gym behind me and turned to see the man whose name was printed on my t-shirt in size-52 font. Yep, Bob Huggins was in the building. And I was terrified.
I figured this encounter would end with me either getting in trouble and getting kicked out or with Cincinnati's head coach completely ignoring the most awkward evening workout in Bearcat history and just walking away. Instead, much to my 13-year old surprise, I got an introduction and a private 20-minute instruction session with a coach who was just a few months removed from the Elite Eight and surely had something better to do at 9pm than work with a talent-less eighth-grader.
For those twenty minutes, he was a lot more "Huggy Bear" than he ever shows on TV and he helped me with mechanics on my jump shot, making me flick my wrist and bend my Osgood Schlatter knees more. Not realizing what a hopeless endeavor it was, he had me fire off jumper after jumper, observing and rebounding (when they came close to him), giving me the attentiveness one would show their own kid. He made small talk with me about my Texas high school and I think he even smiled a few times. He seemed to be enjoying working with this lanky, acne-faced teenager as much as this lanky, acne-faced teenager enjoyed working with him.
As you might expect, my basketball career didn't work out too well. Despite Huggins' best efforts that night in the Shoemaker Center, I never got a sniff of a D-1 scholarship and I never ended up in Rivals' database. I'm pretty sure that I didn't even get to meet Danny Fortson that week. But, for the past 13 years, I've carried an incredible memory and a great deal of respect for Bob Huggins that has nothing to do with his wins and losses. After watching his touching moment with Da'Sean Butler on Saturday, I think the whole nation just might too.
Huggins displays lovable side few believed exists
mike freeman www.sportsline.com
INDIANAPOLIS -- If you hated Bob Huggins before, you can't now. The emotion should be physically impossible unless your heart is made of titanium. Or you don't have one.
In the second half of Duke's rumble over West Virginia it was Huggins who initiated what has to be the most moving scene of this year's NCAA tournament. It's actually one of the more touching visuals the tournament has ever witnessed.
When Da'Sean Butler collapsed to the floor after his knee buckled, Huggins moved onto the court to comfort his star player. What happened next was an amazing piece of imagery. Huggins wrapped his arms around the head of Butler to comfort him as the stadium went quiet.
The embrace by Huggins was caught by cameras and in one fell swoop it likely changed the image of Huggins forever.
While Huggins is still the grumpy, Tony Soprano sweatsuit-wearing, foul-mouthed hard charger, his sincere embrace of Butler also demonstrated the side of Huggins his players always talk about but few people seem to actually believe.
There's a soft side to Huggins. That's what the embrace of Butler demonstrated. He isn't just a careerist. He cares about the players, and in a college basketball world that's become far too cold and corporate it was a nice thing to see.
Butler remembers apologizing to Huggins for being injured and Huggins saying back to him: "Don't be sorry. I love you."
Both men seemed to know at the time that the injury was extremely serious. They were right. CBSSports.com's Gary Parrish confirmed that Butler experienced a torn ACL, a sprained MCL and two bone bruises in that left knee. Thus the injury didn't just impact Butler for the game; it's going to impact his NBA Draft status as well.
"Well, you know, I started coaching Da'Sean when he was a sophomore," Huggins remembered. "Joe Alexander had the breakout year. They told me he was very happy kind of being Joe's sidekick, you know. Everybody trying to stop Joe, enabling him to be able to do things. And then his junior year, I think the first exhibition game, he got 36 or 38, and he was in the locker room apologizing that he shot the ball too much, he didn't get his teammates involved. I was like, 'Come here, man, I need to talk to you. If we're going to have any chance, you're going to have to score the ball for us.'
"You know, he's done it. I didn't think he was as assertive today as what, you know, he has been. If you can be too good a guy, he's too good a guy. He really is concerned about everybody else and getting his teammates involved. And he doesn't want to hurt the team in any way. But, I mean, when you're the third leading scorer anywhere behind Jerry West and Hot Rod Huntley, you've had a heck of a career. And he's done it with class, he's done it with dignity."
Huggins has a heart the size of West Virginia.