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March 18, 2010

Beilein influence still there

MORGANTOWN —  

It is chic, these days with West Virginia University cutting a bold path toward the upper echelons of college basketball, to disavow all ties to John Beilein, the former coach who pioneered the trail that leads from Morgantown to Ann Arbor, Mich.

His departure made it possible for Bob Huggins, a West Virginia basketball hero of another era and coach who had crossed one too many bridges in Cincinnati before burning it behind him, to come home.

Huggins was the anti-Beilein, his style be rough and rugged, his persona being quiet, yet deceivingly tough. If Beilein scored his baskets by sneaking in the back door, Huggins would score them by smashing down the front door.

Beilein wanted lithe, lean players; Huggins wanted muscular, athletic players.

Beilein was an architect who built houses; Huggins a tornado which tore them down.

Huggins has won over the Mountaineer nation, creating a product and winning a Big East Tournament championship, which was one step beyond where Beilein could take the team.

Huggins took Joe Alexander and turned him into a legend his first year, sending him off to the NBA, something no West Virginia player had done since they stopped shooting set shots in the league. Then he molded Da’Sean Butler into an All-America player.

He took Beilein’s players and made them bigger than life, stronger than strong. One could only wonder what Huggins would have done with Kevin Pittsnogle, but we suspect he might be shooting baskets in New York, not New Mexico these days.

Certainly, between Alexander and Butler and Wellington Smith and Joe Mazzulla and Cam Thoroughman, there is a Beilein influence on this team that has gained a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and that opens play against Morgan State in Buffalo on Friday.

These were good kids, smart kids, kids who obviously had talent and who could perform in a different system with different assignments as effectively, or more so, than they did for Beilein.

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