By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Anyone who has ever played sports understands where Bob Huggins was coming from when, in a passionate post-game press conference following another dismal effort in West Virginia University’s 81-66 defeat to No. 3 Michigan, he wore his heart of the sleeve of the rare sports coat he had broken out for this occasion.
Huggins was talking about effort, desire and dedication. More to the point, as only he can in his refreshingly honest way in an era where most coaches and spokespeople issue little more than gobbledygook, he was talking about the lack of effort, desire and dedication.
Those among us who have played know that a player gives what he believes is all he has, which often is enough to get by at lesser levels, but that there is almost always more in the tank, and that is where coaching comes in.
A good coach gets that out of a player, cajoles or convinces him into reaching even deeper, to play the game as hard as he must ... and sometimes that is not even enough.
For there are also great coaches, men who can make the tired awake, the weak strong, the discontented content. They have a way of extracting performance not only from the muscles and the brain and an athlete, but from his soul.
This is what Huggins has been able to do throughout his career, and he is frustrated and confounded by his inability to do it with his present group at West Virginia.
It started before they left for this Michigan game by leaving Aaric Murray, his best rebounder and inside defender, at home. It was a message to Murray. It was a message to the fans, but most of all, it was supposed to be a message to the team.
Did it make a difference in the outcome of the game?
“Our guys are going to do right and it’s going to be about we and it’s never going to be about me. I’ve left guys home way better than Aaric Murray, way, way better than Aaric Murray. I’ve sent guys home after we got there that are way, way, way better than Aaric Murray.”
It was obvious from the start that the message did not get across to anyone, just as it hasn’t all season.
“I’m not as much worried about us shooting as I am about us playing,” he began in response to a question about his team’s shooting situation, which seemed at times improved against Michigan.
“We start the game and the first seven minutes we don’t get a single rebound. We start the game and I don’t know if in the first seven minutes we had a stop, if we had one stop,” Huggins said while responding to a question about his team’s shooting disabilities.
“My concern is we don’t play. We haven’t really competed. I thought we put some guys in today who competed, and I thought we took some guys out who wouldn’t.”
He didn’t name names, but Deniz Kilicli played nine minutes, leaving one play into the second half, while Jabarie Hinds also played nine minutes of the game.
“Let me tell you what those moves came from. ... I’m sick of it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of watching guys stand around. I’m sick of watching guys not compete. I’m sick of guys missing shot after shot after shot but never think about coming in early, never think about coming in late and never think about coming in on an off day,” Huggins said, entering an emotional rant.
“Then they tell me they care. I’ve never had guys like that before. I want some guys who care. If I’ve got some guys who care, we got a great coaching staff and we’ll coach them up.
“My issue is we haven’t been my team. We haven’t competed.”
With Huggins, it is and always has been team first, his personal feelings later.
That makes what he’s doing with Kilicli so interesting. It came after he missed a close-in shot, which was the last straw.
“Deniz hasn’t finished anything around the rim, and we’re not playing Deniz for his defensive ability, obviously,” Huggins said curtly. “You just can’t keep doing it. We can’t gear what we do around someone who isn’t going to finish.
“I love Deniz. I want you to understand he is one of my favorite guys of all time. I love him to death, but I’m not sure I love anyone enough to lose for them. I don’t know if I love my wife that much to lose for her.”
Now Huggins is ready to move on. Terry Henderson scored 23 points and surely will take Hinds’ job. Eron Harris will get more playing time, and Huggins will begin working on a crash course with Volodymyr Gerun to get him to the point where he can play defense as well as offense.
He has sworn all season he would fix what’s wrong, and this is no different.
“We’re going to do the right thing. To me, this is my state university, and I love this university. We’re going to do right. They are going to do the right things, and if they don’t, they are not going to play,” he said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.