ESPN College Gameday Broadcast Sets The Stage For WVU-UK Showdown
Before the Mountaineers and Wildcats took center stage, ESPN’s College Gameday took center court.
A couple hundred students lined up outside the WVU Coliseum in the early morning hours Saturday, waiting for the doors to open at 9:30 a.m. They were joined by a couple thousand more fans inside the building by the time the hour-long ESPN College Gameday broadcast began at 11 a.m.
The crowd was at full volume, even during a couple rehearsals by the Gameday crew of Reece Davis, Jay Williams, Jay Bilas and Seth Greenberg, breaking out into “Country Roads” on cue and also disparaging Pitt and Oklahoma freshman Trae Young without prompting.
There were plenty of cheers and boos to go around throughout the hour.
WVU head coach Bob Huggins got the biggest ovation when he walked out for his interview.
Asked what got him into coaching, he proceed to tell a tale of his playing career coming to an end after his graduation from WVU and then being cut by the Philadelphia 76ers following a rookie free agent tryout.
“When I got back here, Coach (Joedy) Gardner asked me to be a (graduate assistant coach),” Huggins recalled. “I was fortunate enough to get into grad school, even though I didn’t get back here until late. That was the start of it.”
That was the fall of 1977. Now 40 years later, Huggins is in his 11th season as the head coach of his alma mater.
The seventh winningest coach all-time with a record of 835-331, Huggins welcomed the Gameday quartet, as well as Kentucky head coach John Calipari to his fish fry the night before.
An annual fundraiser for the cancer research endowment that bears his mother’s name, Norma Mae Huggins, as well as the Remember the Miners’ fund, more than 1,500 were on hand for the sixth annual fish fry, which was held at Mylan Park.
Then on Saturday Gameday crew was in the Coliseum, previewing the day’s the West Virginia-Kentucky clash that night, as well as the headlines of the day in college basketball. From the serious events, like the issues at Michigan State, to the jokes with Huggins, the show touched on many topics.
It was the second time the basketball-version of College Gameday has come to WVU, as the previous broadcast took place on March 7, 2009 prior to West Virginia hosting Louisville. The Mountaineer football team has also hosted Gameday twice, 2014 and 2011.
Saturday’s Coliseum crowd didn’t agree with all the statements from the ESPN hosts.
“Until someone beats out Kansas, they still have to be the favorites in the Big 12,” said Bilas when the topic of if someone could stop the Jayhawks’ 13-year reign as league champion came up. His proclamation was met with a chorus of boos from the partisan Mountaineer crowd, which did feature a handful of those in Kentucky blue.
But the biggest jeers were saved for the end. After Bilas and Greensburg picked a West Virginia victory over UK, Williams jumped from the stage, waved over the Mountaineer mascot and started strumming a few bars of “Country Roads” on a handy guitar. He suddenly stopped and tore open his button-down dress shirt to reveal a Kentucky jersey.
Amidst thunderous but basically good-hearted catcalls, Williams exited stage right, and the broadcast wrapped up a few moments later.
Down came the stage, the cameras and lights whisked away, and the floor was cleared for a shoot around by the Kentucky Wildcats, whose busses were headed into the Coliseum parking lots while the thousands of fans made their way out.