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April 8, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN- Hall snubs Huggins yet again

MORGANTOWN — Sometime mid-morning the worst-kept secret will be let out of the bag with the official announcement that Bob Huggins once again has not made the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

A couple of coaches made it, including Rick Pitino of Louisville, who has other business on his mind on this day in the person of John Beilein and his Michigan team that is trying to beat the Cardinals and win the national title.

Among those joining Pitino in the Class of 2013 will be former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, nine-time NBA All-Star Gary Payton, former Houston coach Guy Lewis, and NBA and Olympic star Spencer Haywood, according to multiple reports.

And don’t look for him in the College Basketball Hall of Fame either, for its class will include former coaches Rollie Massimino of Villanova, Gene Keady of Purdue, George Ravling of Washington and Bob Hopkins of Grambling.

In some ways, it may be best that Huggins has been snubbed this year, despite what you have to argue is a Hall of Fame career, considering it comes not only at the worst year of his coaching career but in the shadow of the Mike Rice fiasco at Rutgers.

Huggins’ reputation from his Cincinnati days, a warped reputation he has always maintained, would surely have been dragged through the dirt in that shadow, including his trip to probation, his public DUI video and what was pictured as a dismal academic record with the Bearcats.

That having been noted, there is no doubt that Huggins is a Hall of Fame coach, ranking third among active coaches in victories behind Duke’s Mike Krzyewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, each a Hall of Fame coach.

There is, in reality, only one accomplishment lacking from his resume, and that would be a national championship, something that has evaded him despite twice reaching the Final Four, and something he is convinced in his own mind he would have had not Kenyon Martin broken his ankle three minutes into the 2000 Conference USA Tournament, keeping him out of the NCAAs and leaving the Bearcats without a chance to win even though they probably would have had the best team.

Not winning an NCAA championship is hardly a fatal flaw in one’s resume when it comes to NCAA time, for such coaches as Ray Meyer, Ralph Miller, Pete Carrill and Lou Carnesecca, among others, have made it without one.

True, he did not spend most of his career in a so-called “power conference” at Cincinnati, but he was dominant in that conference and led his teams to postseason play in 27 of his 30 seasons, including 20 NCAA tournaments.

He has won 20 or more games in all but five of his 30 seasons and 30 or more three times.

Those accomplishments, coming in non-power conferences, may be even more impressive because of that fact than diminished, as his successor at Cincinnati and former assistant, Mick Cronin, once pointed out to Bill Koch of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“He’s had great fans but he hasn’t had the best of the best with budget and facilities and the amenities of the elite programs,” Cronin said.

“When you stack up his wins in that regard, I don’t think you can compare somebody that’s coached at Akron, Cincinnati and West Virginia and expect him to win national championships the way you would somebody who’s coached at Kentucky, North Carolina or UCLA.”

There is something else that must be considered when weighing Huggins’ accomplishments in Cincinnati, and that is the program’s condition when he took it over.

Cincinnati at one time was a proud basketball school, the school that produced Oscar Robertson, who was the lone player in his era to be considered the equal to WVU star Jerry West of the same era, the two leading one of the truly great U.S. Olympic teams to victory.

But it had slipped badly after that and hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 15 years when he took over.

Huggins built the program quickly and had it to the Final Four in his third season and went to 14 NCAAs in 16 years at UC, including leading them to the No. 1 ranking when Martin broke his leg.

In many ways this year has been a complete shame — and sham — for Huggins, his season a disaster and the highlight of his NCAA being beating former assistant coach Frank Martin in the LG Electric Coaches Cook-off, where English Muffin pizzas, one with shrimp, one with sausage, the best.

Huggins’ victory earned $20,000 for Coaches vs. Cancer, which is a Hall of Fame victory for sure.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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