April 6, 2007
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The fiery courtside demeanor, the in-your-face defense, the unbelievable success … Bob Huggins’ West Virginia University teammates could see way back then those traits being developed during his three seasons in Morgantown from 1975-77.
“He was a coach’s player,” recalled forward Maurice Robinson. “You always knew that he was going to be successful in whatever he did because he worked real hard.”
“He could run a team and that’s why he has been such a good coach,” said guard Tony Robertson, who had a small measure of success himself spending parts of two seasons in the NBA. “He knows how to run a team and he knows how to get the best out of players – especially on the defensive end.”
Tough, physical defense: that was what his teammates said Bob Huggins was known for at WVU.
“We used to send out a certificate to the five best guys that we played against during the course of the season,” said forward Warren Baker. “The year that he transferred from Ohio University and had to sit out we sent out four and gave him one because we had to practice against him every day.”
“Huggs would dog you,” Robertson laughed. “He didn’t care who you were. I used to tell him if they guarded me like that in the game I probably wouldn’t have gotten the points that I did.”
Those West Virginia basketball teams of the mid-1970s under Joedy Gardner weren’t great, but when you were finished playing the Mountaineers you definitely knew you were in a basketball game. You probably needed to spend some extra time in the training room, too.
It wasn’t uncommon for someone to try and take a red-hot Wally Walker out the game by boxing him out eight rows up into the stands. A forearm or two might have landed into the chest of Pitt’s Keith Starr or Duquesne’s Norm Nixon. Elbows were sometimes raised above their shoulders. It wasn’t dirty -- that’s just how the game was played.
“We weren’t trying to hurt anybody but that’s just how we played,” said Robinson. “That’s why I liked playing with those guys.”
And it was Huggins who almost always drew the assignment of guarding the team’s best scorer: guys like Nixon, Bruce Parkinson of Purdue, Skip Brown of Wake Forest, Rickie Hawthorne of Cal, Keith Herron of Villanova, and Phil Sellers of Rutgers.
Huggins stuck to them like a glove.
There was, however, one player who gave Huggins fits: George Washington’s Pat Tallent. For some reason Huggins just couldn’t figure out a way to get Tallent off his game.
“He would wear Huggs out,” laughed Robertson. “Don’t get me wrong, he scored on all of us, but we always messed with him about that.”
Tallent, who played for his older brother Bob Tallent at GW, scored 90 points in three games against West Virginia, including 32 in an ECAC tournament victory in Morgantown in 1976.
“If you looked it up Huggs probably fouled out in each one of those games (it’s true, 15 fouls in three games),” Robertson chuckled. “He may have scored a lot but he got knocked down quite a few times also.”
Huggins practiced the way he played.
“When Huggs got on the court he was ALL business,” Robertson said. “He just played hard – the same way he coaches.”
“He wasn’t real vocal but you knew that when you stepped on the court with him you knew you had someone that would back you up,” said Robinson, himself once a tough 6-7 forward/center. “You couldn’t slack off and let him out-do you.”
Huggins’ style was enamoring to WVU students, too, who began showing up at West Virginia games with ‘Huggins Heroes’ banners.
“I had forgotten about that,” Robertson said. “They loved him because he didn’t take stuff from anyone.”
Huggins was an underrated shooter, making 47 percent of his field goal attempts for his career and scoring a career-high 28 points at Virginia Tech. He averaged 13.2 points per game his senior season and had nearly 800 points in three years at WVU.
Really, about the only thing Huggs couldn’t do on the basketball court was dunk. Ask his teammates about some of his vicious throw-downs and the stories don’t stop.
“I remember him trying after practice,” Baker laughed. “He used to take the ball from half court and run like the devil to dunk. I’d say, ‘If you cut down on that running you might have a little bit of energy left to get that tennis ball over the rim.’”
“We were practicing in Madison Square Garden and the floor at the Garden was like a springboard and he dunked and the entire team just went off,” Robinson said. “It was the first and only time he ever dunked a basketball.”
Baker doesn’t remember it at all.
“If Maurice remembers him dunking he’s the only one that can,” Baker remarked. “I must have been in the rest room when that happened because I missed that one.”
“He could dunk in the lay up line and talk about it forever,” Robertson laughed.
Judging from the love and affection his teammates have for him, they could also talk about Bob Huggins forever.
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