The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

June 14, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Huggins’ hip surgery symbol for turning over new leaf at WVU

MORGANTOWN — QUESTION: What does former President George H. W. Bush, actress Jane Fonda, singer Billy Joel, rocker Eddie Van Halen, former football player Mike Ditka and West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins have in common?

ANSWER: New hips.

All underwent hip replacement surgery, which if nothing else shows you that from politics to rock ’n roll, from the stage to the athletic field, no one is immune to crippling hip problems.

It also shows that you can do something about it.

Close to 200,000 Americans choose this joint pain treatment every year, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, and the success rate is high: Only about 2 percent of patients have surgical complications such as joint infection.

Huggins, 60, is the latest to undergo such a procedure, being operated upon earlier this week in a Pittsburgh hospital and being released Thursday to return home.

“I walked the day after surgery,” Huggins said, having already begun rehabilitation that he expects will have him on the road by the July recruiting period.

Last basketball season was a painful one for Huggins.

It was painful watching his team fail to make it to the NCAA Tournament, painful when they fell to Georgetown in the first round of the NIT, painful even in the offseason when both Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, expected to be key members of next year’s team, opted to transfer.

But that pain basketball coaches can handle. They know in the games people play there are winners and there are losers and, sometimes, you end on the wrong side.

There was another kind of pain Huggins was suffering from.

“The hip had bothered me for some time but it took a dramatic dive recently,” he revealed. “It went from hurting to really hurting.”

Athletes, of course, play through pain.

There are miraculous tales of injuries some have played with and excelled, playing games with broken legs and torn muscles … and Huggins always has been one to project the ultimate macho image.

This, though, was different.

“The thing about it is that it starts affecting everything else,” he said. “It starts affecting your knee. It starts affecting your back. I had that bad back thing toward the end of the year and they said that all came from my hip.”

It was almost as painful to watch Huggins as it was to be Huggins when he was coaching.

His hip and his back troubled him so much he couldn’t sit on the seats they use as a bench, instead needing a stool. Stairs seemed like Mount Everest to him, and even just getting up on the podium in the Coliseum for his post-game press conference gave away how much pain he was dealing with.

“It wasn’t going to get any better. Really it comes down to quality of life,” he said.

Huggins began researching hip replacement surgery.

“Everyone I talked to who had had it done said you’ll wish you had done it sooner,” he revealed.

While the procedure has become common, it is not exactly an appendectomy.

According to WebMD.com, “total joint replacement involves surgery to replace the ends of both bones in a damaged joint to create new joint surfaces.”

That means in hip replacement, they saw off the ball part of the at the upper end of the thighbone and replace it with metal, ceramic and plastic parts while resurfacing the hip socket in the pelvic bone, replacing damaged cartilage with new joint material.

If it sounds complicated, it is, but it is also a savior for those in need of it.

“The people I talked to say it’s like night and day,” Huggins said.

He’s already getting around, although he still needs assistance, and he says he doesn’t expect it’s going to make his crossover dribble any better, either.

“That hasn’t been good for a quite a while,” he said.

You wonder if the pain didn’t affect his coaching. He admits that in practice, especially toward the end, he was hurting but says during the game it didn’t cause a problem.

“That all gets blocked out,” he said.

In a way, this been an offseason of rebirth for Huggins, not only replacing the hip that had troubled him, but building a new team which figures to be more to his liking than anything he’s had since the Final Four group of 2010.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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