The Times West Virginian

November 22, 2011

Huggins not happy

Mountaineer coach wants more fans at basketball games

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Bob Huggins is lonely. That’s why he’s taking his basketball team to Charleston to play a “home” game against Morehead State tonight at the Civic Center.

And on Monday morning, he hinted there might be more of it if he and his team aren’t shown a little bit more love by the home folks around Morgantown.

Attendance at the past two home games were combined for little more than 11,000, the Coliseum less than half full for both.

This bothers Huggins more than you may imagine.

“I came home to make this something special,” he said.

Huggins could have remained at Kansas State, where he was just getting something special started. It was a huge challenge coming of the debacle that cost him his job in Cincinnati, the kind of challenge he likes, a head-to-head chance to lift his program to the level of one of college basketball’s giants, Kansas.

But his university, situated in the town in which he was born, came calling and he decided to come home, one final stop, a chance to win the national championship he had never won in a place he thought would appreciate it most.

He has already come close, but now with a freshman-heavy team caught up the midst of holiday time and Dana-mania, his attendance has slid and he obviously wanted to talk about it and get the message out as his team headed to Charleston.

“You play a great schedule because that’s who you think people want to see,” he said, referring to a strong non-conference schedule at home and the Big East. Only Oral Roberts drew more than 6,000 of the first three games, so now he’s talking about how wonderful it is to play in Charleston.

“The truth of the matter is we probably should go there more,” he said. “If people aren’t going to come here, maybe we should go to them.”

This isn’t just talk to sell tickets. It really bothers Huggins.

“I’m like Oral Roberts, man. I don’t like half-filled arenas.”

Chances are he won’t get his sellout in Charleston tonight, either, but he expects a bigger crowd and, to be honest, a more appreciative crowd.

Huggins knows the arguments about why people aren’t coming to these early-season games, about how it’s a holiday and prices are up and students have gone home.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with it in Lawrence, Kan. They come out every game, all the time there,” he said, referring to a basketball mad community not really a lot different from Morgantown.

Huggins acknowledges that attendance has been up since he came home, but that doesn’t matter.

“That’s not the point,” he said. “The point is if we really want to be elite ... look at it this way, if they played Thanksgiving Day during turkey dinner in Kentucky they’d fill the place. They plan around it.

“I understand people can’t come to every game. Give your tickets away if you can’t come.”

Huggins built Cincinnati into a situation where they played before sellout crowds almost all the time and believes there’s no reason why he shouldn’t do the same thing here where there is competition ... no professional sports, no other successful college program like Xavier.

And he expects his freshmen will grow as the year wears on to become a contender in the Big East.

Morehead State was a team that reached the third round of the NCAAs last year, including a victory over Louisville, but they had an NBA first-round pick in Kenneth Farried.

He’s gone now and they are off to a good start, but Huggins maintains that’s because teams have had a hot hand against them. He isn’t sure his freshman-heavy team can shoot like that.

“They’ve played good teams. Watch the tape, N.C. State shot it terrific. University of Charleston hit seven 3s in the first 10 minutes of the game. People have shot very well against them. Sometimes people don’t,” he said.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.