Blog Entry

"Huggy Bear" makes an appearance

Posted on: April 3, 2010 11:48 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2010 8:17 am
Thomas Beisner

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.

Bob Huggins.

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.
Category: NCAAB

Since: Apr 4, 2010
Posted on: April 4, 2010 12:25 pm

Someone send the to rick reilly

@ espn. 

Since: Nov 7, 2006
Posted on: April 4, 2010 11:36 am

"Huggy Bear" makes an appearance

Great article, something sorta out of the norm here on Bob Huggins is a mini-version of sorts to Bob Knight in how he is regarded by the media and fans around the country, but it's obvious West Virginia has a great coach. A lot of times, only the players like Da'Sean Butler get to see the good side of these coaches, but it was nice to get a glimpse at who the man really is, on a national stage. The University of Cincinnati likely regrets not having "Huggy Bear" on their sidelines, and Duke is fortunate they caught the Mountaineers on an off night. We'll see what Butler has Monday night, but I'm sure Coach K will have his guys ready.

Since: Aug 30, 2009
Posted on: April 4, 2010 10:05 am

Stay Classy Duke/Pitt fans

Can anyone think of a reason that the fans of these 2 "classy" schools could have to think a player's injury and Huggins reaction was funny?  Homo jokes at a time like this?  Laughing because Da was crying from pain?  Stay classy.

Since: Feb 14, 2008
Posted on: April 4, 2010 9:48 am

Good read

Excellent column!  That was the best thing I've read here in a long while - well-spoken, to the point, humble and touching.  Thank you.

Since: Aug 5, 2009
Posted on: April 4, 2010 9:44 am

"Huggy Bear" makes an appearance

Loved the story!  I have to admit I was one of those people that had the wrong inpression of Huggins.  After what I saw last night, I have completely changed my mind.... I'm not a WV fan, but I'm now a Huggins fan...

Since: Sep 17, 2006
Posted on: April 4, 2010 9:38 am

"Huggy Bear" makes an appearance

While I was attending UC, I had the pleasure of several one-on-one conversation with "Huggy Bear" and more often than not, it wasn't about basketball. Everyone has their vices, but he truly is a great coach and a great guy. I often wonder if UC would have hoisted that championship trophy again if Huggs wasn't forced out. I'm glad to see he's excelling, while my Bearcats are in the toilet. I mean...we should be better than ****** Xavier every year at least! Sorry just can't get to the players like Huggs did.

Since: Sep 25, 2006
Posted on: April 4, 2010 9:24 am

"Huggy Bear" makes an appearance

Great story    that seen on the court will be remembered for years to come with anybody who witnessed that game. Touching gesture from a coach who has a  John Wayne reputation. thank you for sharing your experience.

Since: Jan 5, 2007
Posted on: April 4, 2010 3:17 am

"Huggy Bear" makes an appearance

Great column! One of the best stories I have read on here in a while. 

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