By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
If you are reading this, apparently the end of the world has not yet arrived so you should feel relieved.
Certainly, West Virginia University’s men’s basketball players do, for they suspect had they lost to Oakland in the tight game they played on Wednesday night, their coach, Bob Huggins, might well have turned it into the end of the world for them.
You see, to Huggins, losing basketball games is like the end of the world, and he has a way of transferring that belief to his players, as they have come to learn.
And who better to give perspective on that than center Aaric Murray, who started his collegiate basketball journey at LaSalle, allowing him a different perspective than most West Virginia players have on Huggins.
What’s more, considering that he had just been suspended for a game for what sounded a whole lot like rebelling against the dictatorial rules laid down by the veteran coach before putting forth a heroic effort against Oakland, he seemed to be the perfect source to reveal exactly what it is like to be playing for Huggins.
So, after a two-game losing streak had been converted into a one-game winning streak in that heart-thumping fashion 76-71 victory over Oakland an inquiring West Virginia sports writer wanted to know what the next practice would have been like had the Mountaineers lost yet again?
Murray thought the unthinkable for a moment, then replied:
“I think we would have had practice right after this game.”
And, the sports writer asked, just how long a practice would that be.
“It might have gone on right up to the next game,” Murray said.
Practice, you see, under Bob Huggins is always more ordeal than ideal, at least if you are the ones practicing. This past week, after losing to Duquesne and Michigan, it was especially challenging.
Murray used the words “outrageous” and “crazy” to explain those practices.
“We thought it was outrageous, thought it was crazy … but even during hard practices like that he has more stuff up his sleeve. He’d been yelling, ‘If you don’t go hard, cut hard, we’re doing this or that.’ We didn’t want that.”
Murray was not alone in his analysis.
“The practices have been tough. Of course, they’d be tough, either way,” said Keaton Miles, who planted consecutive 3s from the corner to turn the game around. “But if you lose they will be tougher. Hopefully, if you win, you may have a less hard practice … although they are never easy. Maybe less inten …. No, they are not less intense, either.”
Miles took a break, pausing as he thought what he was really trying to say about how the practices might be different when the team wins.
“I guess I’m saying we’re not going to die,” he concluded.
Just what is it that Huggins does to inspire such … eh, intimidation?
Could it really be that bad?
“If you have a coach who literally grabs a chair and sits down and watches you run for the whole three hours of practice, you will do whatever you have to do so you don’t run that whole time,” Murray explained. “When he says he’s going to run you to the floor, he is literally going to do that.”
If it’s just one guy messing up, it’s just he banished to the treadmill which is going around fast enough that a thoroughbred race horse would have trouble keeping up, let alone a tired basketball player.
And if it is team mess up he stops practice and runs them from one line under the basket to the other, over and over, until he gets tired … of watching.
Certainly, listening to the players talk, Huggins succeeds in placing fear or some facsimile of that within them.
“I won’t say it’s fear,” Murray said. “We respect him. He’s not trying to kill us. It’s just running, but he will literally stop practice and make you run. At the end of the day, it makes you better … but you don’t want to just run.”
You might notice something here.
None of the players talk about the way Huggins drills them into shooting better or making the right pass or into defensive technique. That comes about during the practice, of course, but it is not what separates his method from that of his rivals and, in truth, much of that is done by the assistants.
Instead, he makes his presence and desires known in the way the team approaches the game rather than n the way it plays the game, instilling in his team an attitude that will drive them at the toughest of times, when the game is on the line and they think they can reach no deeper.
His lessons are lessons in how to compete, which in the long run are far more meaningful than how to play the game.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.