By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
On the surface, the Bob Huggins Fantasy Basketball Camp that began its annual weekend run at the new basketball facility at West Virginia University on Friday is for the campers, a group of fun-seeking, idol-worshipping Mountaineer fans.
After all, they pay $3,000 to bang elbows with each other and rub elbows with the likes of Huggins, Damian Owens, Phil Collins, Mike Gansey, Cam Thoroughman and who knows who else may drop by, Devin Ebanks and John Flowers being in town and Da’Sean Butler scheduled to appear but delayed by a slight complication … his first child.
But as much as it is for the campers, and they showed up in record numbers this year even though it is a season when Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley aren’t on hand, it is for the players who return.
And that’s pretty much what Huggins had in mind when he started his camp.
“I’ve always thought playing here was a tremendous opportunity because you got to know guys who could continue to help you,” Huggins explained. “Jerry (West) has been terrific to me. Rod Hundley has been terrific. You can go on and on and on. That’s what it ought to be, for lack of a better word, a fraternity. We try the best we can to take care of each other.”
But what happens, of course, is that players come, play together for four years then go off and live their lives.
Owens, for example, hasn’t been back much, even though he’s located in Washington, D.C., while Thoroughman is in Illinois serving in human resources for a petroleum company.
This gives these guys, along with a player like Collins from the 1980s, a chance to get together.
“We try to remember the good times we had here,” Thoroughman said.
And the more they come back, the more they like it.
“It’s neat,” Huggins said. “These guys come back and see how much everything has grown and changed. I was talking to Phil Collins and he said, ‘You know, none of those bars have the same name on them.’”
And he hadn’t even been over in Sunnyside to see it was gone.
“I think what has happened is the more they come back the more they want to come back. I think that reunion has gone from about 30 guys to 120. This is a special place. Once you spend time here you kind of fall in love with it,” Huggins said. “I can’t keep Gansey out of town. I tell him you can’t come every year. We have to bring other people in, and he says, ‘You don’t have to pay me. I just want to be there.’
“The thing that has been most rewarding is having a Damian Owens or a Seldon Jefferson get hooked up with a Wil Robinson. I think we lose, especially today, the historic perspective of what these guys were and what they accomplished,” Huggins continued. “We haven’t done a very good job of connecting the different eras. I think this has helped considerably in that regard.”
See, all these people are heroes to someone, even to Huggins himself.
“We kind of grew up and those were our idols,” Huggins said. “I told Jerry for the first two years I was here (as a player) I had his picture hanging up on the ceiling over my bed. Every time I laid down I saw Jerry West.”
Except for his senior year.
“That year I replaced it with Chris Evert,” Huggins admitted, showing he was a more normal college student maybe than anyone really knew.
And while the former players live the good life at the camp, the campers themselves are getting really into it.
“These guys come in and start playing and the juices start flowing a little bit and they start diving for balls and taking charges,” Huggins said.
In truth, the most important people in the camp are neither the players nor the campers. It’s the trainers.
“I did the Michael Jordan Fantasy Camp for a time and after a while the guys realize that the trainers were the MVPs and they took up a collection and made a pretty sizeable contribution in addition to what Michael paid them,” Huggins said. “They do that here for Doc (Randy) Meador.”
Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.