Huggins: Freshmen Still Battle To Adapt In College Hoops
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — From the outside, with your nose pressed against the cold glass door, it would appear that freshmen basketball players entering college would be far advanced over those who were coming along 10 or 20 or more years ago.
After all, they aren’t wearing those all white Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers any more and those short shorts that Jerry West donned at WVU have gone the way of the Hula Hoop. Today they have camps and videos and strength coaches and are generally — if we can eliminate a freshman named Wilt Chamberlain, who came along far before his time — better athletes than their counterparts.
They are bigger and stronger and faster and, most certainly, more worldly.
But are they better?
Bob Huggins isn’t so sure.
The veteran West Virginia coach was once one of those kids trying to come along into the college ranks himself, doing so in a far earlier era, and he sees things about the world today that doesn’t always provide the full advantage to the entering freshmen as it is meant to.
First up on that list is AAU basketball, certainly part of the game that has enhanced the individual skills of many players, but not nearly so much has it has also enhanced his vision of himself.
Huggins says he doesn’t want to say he’s not an AAU guy, because that is one way to cut your throat with some of those who run the AAU programs, but he understands that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. He has learned that what AAU baskeball giveth it also taketh away.
“I had a guy — Keith Gregor — at Cincinnati and he was on the summer champions of AAU basketball,” Huggins began, relating the following the conversation:
“Did you enjoy your summer?” Huggins asked.
“You know, Coach, it was OK, but the truth is we beat people so bad I only played about a quarter and a half a game.”
He then explained to Huggins that during their off time they really didn’t have a gym to work out in because they were being used for other games and that you couldn’t lift because you needed supervision in the weight room.
“So you end up eating McDonald’s, laying on the bed and watching TV all day,” Gregor said to Huggins. “I would have been a whole lot better served working on my game than doing that. “
That got Huggins to thinking.
“I don’t think guys learn how to play as well as they did. For all the good it has done, there’s a residual effect that creates some bad things, too,” he said.
He thought back to the young Bob Huggins, high school and before, the kid eager to play the game of basketball. He wasn’t being ushered around the country playing tournaments, getting his highlights videoed and sent to recruiters, showing up on occasion on SportsCenter Top 10 plays if you happened to create a doozy of an alley-oop.
“When I was really young I went to the playground and because I was bigger and stronger than the kids my age, I played with the college guys,” he said.
And he learned what basketball — real basketball, the kind he still coaches today — was all about.
“I figured out real quick you throw the ball to the best player. I figured out you screen for the best player. You try like hell to get a rebound, even though you really can’t.”
There was a good reason for this.
Huggins wanted to play the game.
He wasn’t thinking about playing in college at that moment, or trying the pros.
No, he was thinking about just playing the next game on that court that may or may not have had a net on the basket.
“We had guys who were the best players on the playground and I threw the ball to them every time because consequentially they’d pick me to be on their team. So instead of sitting over there, I got to play.
“Think guys in AAU learned that? No. They were worried about their next shot.”
Basketball became a “me first” sport, a sport where you were playing to be noticed, not necessarily to win.
This is the way Huggins explained life in the AAU era.
“You play a game at 10 o’clock in the morning, you lose, you go get a Quarter Pounder, a milk shake and fries, you eat that and go back at 2 and lose again,” he said. “Now you go back and get a pizza and eat that pizza, then you go back and play the third game of the day and get whacked again.”
“I don’t know. Go get Chick-fil-A, I guess,” he said.
See the thing about playing on the rudimentary playgrounds was you had to win to stay on the court.
“When you went to the playground, you had to win to stay out there and play, so winning meant something,” Huggins said. “So losing meant something. Losing doesn’t mean anything now.
“Now, they get beat, get a pat on the rump, jump in the van and we’ll go eat,” he said.