MORGANTOWN — It wasn’t, Bob Huggins was assuring the reporter on the other end of the line as he sat in a Chicago hotel room the other day, all about him.
Yes, he understood that two days earlier he was the one wearing the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ring on his finger along with his Hall of Fame blazer. And, yes, it was him at the podium giving thanks and making a speech in which he finally could see life through a rear-view mirror.
But while he finally was going into the Hall of Fame, what he was feeling had nothing to do with him.
“It’s a great honor,” he said, “but it was great for my kids.”
“His kids” were his players, the ones who believed in him and put out for him as he put the University of Cincinnati back on the college basketball map and those at West Virginia who carried on the tradition at that school.
At WVU, which was where he played, where he got his degree and where he came home to help through the final years of a career that still is going strong, that was “kids” like Da’Sean Butler and Jevon Carter and Joe Mazzulla and Joe Alexander and so many others, including one, Kevin Jones, who on this Saturday morning gets his own taste of the Hall of Fame experience as he is among eight athletes being inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
Like his mentor, Huggins, is underrated as a player but somehow, like Huggins, he is not underappreciated.
It’s always been that way with Huggins, really. His best players weren’t of the Larry Bird or Magic Johnson genre. They weren’t Michael Jordan or Bill Bradley or Bill Walton or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Those guys were gold.
Huggins’ players were coal, or in this neck of the woods, black gold.
That’s why he got so much out of them.
Think of the group of players Huggins really surrounded himself with at WVU — Da’Sean Butler, Mazzulla, Jevon Carter, Cam Thoroughman, Derek Culver, Truck Bryant.
If you were to draw a portrait of any of them it would look like a bead of sweat. The good ones played hard.
The others hardly played.
Kevin Jones was in the former.
The point is best illustrated in the idea that Huggins got all he wanted and so much more out of KJ, as his teammates call him.
He couldn’t do the same with Oscar Tshiebwe, who transferred and became the national player of the year.
Why didn’t it happen at WVU? It’s far too simple to lay it at Huggins’ feet, yet why did Huggins get so much out of so many and not Tshiebwe.
Let us suggest that the blame be laid more at the player’s feet than at Huggins’.
Huggins creates more of a fraternity than a team, more a family or brotherhood. That’s why his favorite moments at the Hall of Fame induction in Springfield weren’t at the podium or at the ceremony, but when he got together with his guys on Friday night.
“The night before, we sat around in like this big circle and there were 12 or 14 of my old guys there,” Huggins said. “It was wonderful.”
The aura of the moment turned into just a fraternity meeting of former players and their coach.
“I was back down to earth as soon as I started hanging out with those guys. Somebody said something, I forget what it was, and Kenyon was ready to knock someone out. When I’m around those guys I’ve got nothing to worry about,” Huggins said.
Kenyon, of course, was his former National Player of the Year at Cincinnati, Kenyon Martin, who was about to lead Huggins to what would have been the national championship he has yet to experience until breaking a leg in the conference tournament.
“We had a little get together. You can get all the rings and blazers you want, but when 12 of your guys walk in there — all those dudes — to me, that’s what matters,” Huggins said.
While they were deep into the spirit of the night — and the spirits of the night — a familiar face came out of the crowd.
“We were sitting around telling stories,” Huggins said. “Da’Sean came and Kenyon or one of the guys said, ‘Hey, man, you’re one of us. Sit your ass down.’ Those guys, they made me. They made the University of Cincinnati basketball.”
Just as did Butler and Carter and Jones made the WVU program and gave it its image at WVU.
Jones, as noted, was underrated when you really look at what he did. He was one of the two or three best big men in the program history.
Think of it this way. Jones and Jerry West are the only two Mountaineers to rank in the top five at the school in all-time scoring and rebounding.
Jones always answered the call. He was Butler without the game-winning shots, you might say. Butler played more minutes than any player in WVU history at 4,491.
Jones is second with 4,347 minutes played.
And he was the man who gave Huggins what he wanted most, offensive rebounds. The stat hasn’t been kept all time but since it was kept, Jones’s 450 career offensive rebounds rank first ... 130 more than No. 3 Chris Brooks.
Today, Huggins and Jones’ teammates and West Virginia fans honor his accomplishments and his attitude, capping off a Hall of Fame week for the basketball program that both have been so much a part of.
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