By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Just Sunday, one of the really useful and informative websites devoted to West Virginia sports, WVUpressbox.com, published an editorial stating that it believed Bob Huggins should have been named Coach of the Year.
While not stating if it meant national Coach of the Year, Big East or West Virginia Coach of the Year, the point was well taken, but there was a line in the story that got the wheels to turning.
“I could make a case for Bob Huggins as coach of the year in any of his seasons while at WVU — certainly, taking a team of John Beilein recruits in his first season to the Sweet 16 was quite an accomplishment and last year’s Final Four run definitely ranks up there as well — but this season, I believe, was his best coaching job yet.”
The italics in there are mine, for that makes it seem that Huggins had inherited a team of stiffs from Beilein and magically made them into a Sweet 16 team, while the exact opposite is true.
Without taking anything away from what Huggins has done in four years — and he has done all you could ask, including producing a Final Four team — it can be suggested that even as late as this year John Beilein well should share in any of the success Huggins has had.
Somehow, Beilein’s accomplishments at West Virginia are diminishing in the shadow of what Huggins has accomplished, and that is truly unfair, for Beilein laid the groundwork for Huggins to succeed, right down to the last basket Joe Mazzulla made or the last pick Cam Thoroughman set.
Go back to that statement about the accomplishment of taking a team of Beilein recruits to the Sweet 16 for a moment.
That team went 26-11 for Huggins in his first year, but it was the remnants of a team that went 27-9 the previous year and won the NIT.
It was a team that featured two NBA players, Joe Alexander and Da’Sean Butler.
To understand just what Beilein did when Huggins shocked his home state five years ago and turned down an invitation to return, consider what he inherited when he took over. You might have forgotten the mess that Gale Catlett had left behind, a team that faced an NCAA investigation concerning Jonathan Hargett, a team that had gone 8-20 the previous season while putting together a DePaulish 1-15 Big East Conference record.
Beilein’s 14-15 record in his first season was every bit as much an accomplishment with what he inherited as was Huggins’ 26-11 in picking up where Beilein had left off.
And Beilein’s players had star power.
True, Huggins can recruit and build great players, but last year’s most popular player — and best — was Butler, who became a West Virginia folk hero, while this year’s most popular player was Mazzulla.
Both were brought to WVU by Beilein.
What’s more, Beilein brought us Joe Alexander, Mike Gansey, Frank Young, Johannes Herber,
Patrick Beilein, Darris Nichols and, if Kevin Pittsnogle was a Catlett recruit, Beilein was his only coach here and turned him into one of college basketball’s biggest names.
Beilein’s players had more than star power, however. They had staying power.
They spanned either Beilein’s whole career or went into Huggins’. Only Alexander, the one player out of the group who Beilein failed to develop, left early after just a year with Huggins.
Beilein even stood on the verge of matching Huggins’ accomplishment of reaching the Final Four, leading Louisville by 20 points in an Elite Eight game only to run out of gas and lose the game in overtime.
The point here certainly is not to belittle anything Huggins has accomplished, as he is a Hall of Fame coach without the plague at present, but what has been accomplished in four years has in some ways been only an extension of what Beilein started and marks an era of West Virginia basketball that has been unmatched since the days of Hot Rod Hundley and Jerry West.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.