WVU Coaching Development One of Huggins’ Strengths
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Certainly, if West Virginia’s inclusion in the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase with Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against Rhode Island does nothing else it will be a worthwhile event if it somehow brings coach Bob Huggins’ case for inclusion in the Hall of Fame into the spotlight for a while.
One can endlessly list Huggins’ accomplishments at schools that are not among the nation’s basketball traditional elite such as Kentucky, Duke, UCLA, Indiana, Connecticut, stating his 851 victories and two Final Four appearances as the groundwork upon which to build a Hall of Fame case.
But perhaps one of Huggins’ greatest strengths as a coach has come to light in recent years and it had nothing to with his upbringing with the game as the son of one of the nation’s greatest high school coaches or with his steely determination and emphasis on defense but, instead, upon his understanding of building and using a coaching staff.
Huggins, like most great coaches, does not stand alone and is propped up by those around him Here at WVU he has constructed a staff with not only talent and knowledge but with stability with Larry Harrison, Ron Everhart and Erik Martin.
What’s more, Huggins fears not detracting from his accomplishments by heaping praise upon them while spreading the duties such as game-planning, recruiting and teaching … and today it is as good time as any to understand that.
To do that, perhaps, we best turn to Martin, a former player of his and probably the least known by the public as both Harrison and Everhart have head coaching stops on their resume. Martin played nine years as a professional overseas and now has spent nine years with Huggins in Morgantown, watching the coach himself operate and learning from him as he teaches others.
You listen to Martin talk, as he did this week on Huggins’ radio show when the head coach was delayed returning from a recruiting trip and you understand that he goes in with his eyes and ears open at all times.
“We got on our guys pretty bad after the Florida loss,” Martin admitted. “We didn’t have any energy and Huggs told them that this is the game of the year … not because we need a win but because it’s Pitt.”
That stuck with Marin for psychologically it changed the entire purpose of the game, not being crucial to rescue them from themselves, but for a far higher purpose … a team purpose, school purpose, a statewide purpose.
Martin analyzed the team is now made up of newcomers or of players who were spoiled by the presence of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr.
It was nifty bit of coaching really, to understand that this was a must win situation for the players but to turn them toward a larger goal rather than just easing their own mind.
Martin is picking all this up along the way while his work may be the most recognizable of any of Huggins’ assistants. He is in charge of the big men and all you have to do is look at the raw freshman who was Sagaba Kontate and came into the program three years ago and compare it to where he is now, and then take a look at Logan Routt.
One may argue that Konate’s season got off to a slower start than anyone anticipated, which put Huggins and Martin in an interesting coaching dilemma, for they had to figure out what was wrong and push him past it while being patient.
This is how Martin approached it.
“Coming off surgery, it takes a while to get back into rhythm,” Martin said, referring to some off-season knee repair work. “We would have liked him to practice more than he did.”
But you can’t just throw him in there.
And so they waited, nursed him through it and against he stepped forth with his best effort of 16 points, nine rebounds and seven shots blocked, which took him past D’Or Fischer and gave him the WVU career record in that department of 191 blocks.
But even more satisfying to Martin has been the work he’s done with Routt, who came in a skinny 6-11 kid who played quarterback in high school and who, he said “couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.”
“I advised him not to chew gum,” Martin joked.
But then he turned serious about it.
“I was hard on him the first two years,” he said. “Logan is one of those guys who will do whatever you ask him. I rode him hard. His middle name was ‘Treadmill’, but he never broke, never asked me why I was so hard on him.”
And last year and this year the Mountaineers began reaping dividends with a useful backup center, one who got to run down the carpet as a starter against Pitt.
“I did not see that coming in my wildest dreams,” Martin admitted.
Now he has a third big man to work with as everyone expects Konate to leave after this year. That is Andrew Gordon, who is talented but just beginning his journey.
“He claims he was a hell of a receiver in high school,” Martin said, not sure about that.
What he is sure about is that he can do things having seen him challenge Konate in practice and even block Konate’s dunks on occasion.
“You have to have some finesse,” Martin explained. “Sometimes you can foul someone and not make it look like a foul. Every time he fouls it looks like a foul.”
But here’s the deal, Martin says Gordon is “as athletic as anyone we’ve had. He had knee surgery before coming in so he is just rounding into shape.”
Martin, the coach, has seen Huggins’ evolution as a coach after having played for him back in the early 1990s and now coachimg for him for a dozen years.
“I’ll tell you what Huggs tell me. He says ‘I knew one only one way to skin a cat when I got into coaching. Now it’s 41 years later. There was a lot more yelling then,’” Martin said. “He was just Bob Huggins then. He wasn’t Huggy Bear. He hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game, hadn’t gone to Final Four.”
Now he’s different, more patient, more hands off, maybe.
“I’m the one who puts them on the treadmill now,” Martin said. “I remember when he put me on the treadmill when I played that I didn’t like it and that makes it stick in your mind longer.”