Bob Huggins has told this story over the years and swears it’s true.
It’s about him and his father, Charlie, the most important man in his life, the man who taught him basketball and life and the man who died on Tuesday at 87.
Huggins begins the story telling you about the man who became a coaching legend in Ohio, about the way he pushed his players as hard as he could push them, to win games, yes, but to make them better people, too.
And he pushed no one as hard as he pushed is son, Bob, who at the time was playing for his father at South Valley High in Gnadenhutten.
No matter what Bob Huggins had done, it never was enough for his father. Yes, he was the best player on the team and, yes, he would lead them to one of two state championships his dad would win, but at halftime of any game they hadn’t won anything and it seemed that he was roughest on his son.
And practices? Forget it. Anyone who has seen Huggins work his players over in practice has seen only a part of the way Charlie Huggins pushed his son toward greatness.
Well, the way Huggins remembers it, there was a game where he played the perfect half.
His memory tells him he scored 20 points and made every shot he took. He was the leading rebounder and, perhaps, most important, the man he guarded did not score.
Finally, he’d hear praise in the locker room at halftime. He was almost walking on air when he entered, only to hear his father spend a good part of halftime working him over for not passing the ball more.
Huggins said it was the final straw. He quit the team.
The next day, when school was over, he came out and his father was there waiting for him, his basketball gear in the back seat of the car.
“Come on,” Charlie commanded.
“No, I quit,” Huggins says he said. He was through with basketball.
“Come on, let’s go,” Charlie said, putting on the full court press.
Huggins got into the back seat of the car.
“What else was I supposed to do?” he asked years later.
It was tough love, yes, but make no doubt, it was real love.
Charlie Huggins and his wife, Norma Mae, did what they could for their family that included seven children, of which Bob was the oldest.
Huggins learned basketball. He also was a strong student and thought of becoming a lawyer, graduating magna cum laude from WVU in 1977 while also earning a master’s degree. But by then he was on a path to 900 wins as a college coach, something Charlie Huggins could find nothing wrong with.
Though a Morgantown native, Charlie Huggins coached for 27 years in Ohio.
When you watched Bob Huggins coach, be it at Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State or at West Virginia, you saw Charlie coaching, too.
“There are a lot of similarities with our coaching styles,” Charlie said back in 2010, the last time Bob led a team to the Final Four. “Except I never cussed. I don’t believe in that.”
In 2010 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette got hold of Van Henry, a teammate of Bob Huggins under his father, and remembers what it was like playing for Charlie.
“His intensity and not accepting anything less than full effort is what I remember most, and also how hard he was on Bobby,” Henry said, “I don’t want to exaggerate, but there wasn’t a week that went by where someone wasn’t ready to quit. When it was your turn for him to get after he got after you and it wasn’t easy.
“But it made you better.”
A lot of West Virginia players who have spent time running hard and getting nowhere on the treadmill Huggins uses understand.
The truth is, when you watch West Virginia play, you often see things that Huggins credits to his father, especially on the defensive side, although not totally defensive.
For example, there are times when say Derek Culver takes an outside shot and offers up the excuse that he was open.
That echoes memories of his father through Bob’s mind.
When Bob was young, Charlie would come and pick him up and drive over to Farrell, Pennsylvania, and sit and talk basketball for hours, lessons that Huggins clings to today also.
And when Huggins says to him “That’s because they want you to be wide-open. Why don’t you pass the ball and let the other guys shoot?”
If Huggins took his tough demeanor and quest for perfection from his father, he took also his demand for solid fundamental basketball, a thing that was far easier for Charlie to get out of the kids he was coaching in the 1970s than it is for Bob Huggins to get out of the kids today.
The shame of it all is that they kept the door to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame closed to Huggins too long for his father to see him go in.
Probably just as well. Charlie might have pulled Bob aside to let him know his tie was crooked.