WVU Seniors: What Bob Huggins Meant to Us
BOSTON — It’s the toughest of situations to ask questions in, and the toughest for players to respond. The last game of the season for every team making the NCAA Tournament is a loss, save one. It’s the last time many reporters will have the chance to ask questions of graduating players, or those departing early. And it comes in the cauldron of emotions of a loss, when most have given their all, only to come up just a little short.
Still, there’s a job to do. Getting the views of the players, especially senior leaders, on the just-concluded game is important. But there’s also the long view. The hours, days, weeks, months and years of hard work. The building of relationships. In the end, that might be worth more examination than the final loss, painful though it may be.
Thus, the question was a simple one. What, Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, does Bob Huggins mean to you?
Before we get to the answer, it should be understood that Huggins is a player’s coach — if by player’s coach you mean a guy who cajoles, prods, yells and pushes players to be their best. Those that stay and stick it out for their entire careers build special bonds with the many they end up calling Huggs. Stories of past players staying in contact and visiting are commonplace. Assistant coach Erik Martin played for Huggins at Cincinnati. It’s all well known for those who take the time to look past the gruff exterior. Huggins did much to dispel that when he cradled the injured Da’Sean Butler in the waning moments of a Final Four game, but if any doubts remain, they should have been totally dispersed by the answers of the Mountaineer seniors.
“For me, it’s been everything,” Carter said. “He just gave me a chance, a small guy from Maywood, Illinois, didn’t have a lot of looks. He just saw something in me that a lot of people didn’t.”
For Carter, who has been as reticent this postseason as a Trappist monk, that amounts to a soliloquy. It was clear, though, that there was more than just the couple of sentences involved. As seen in the video below, Carter had to gather himself a couple of times — as close a show of emotion on that end of the scale as he has ever displayed publicly.
For Miles, there was even more.
” First off, I want to say “thank you” to Coach Huggs for giving me the opportunity to play for West Virginia, and thank you to the state for showing us, just being great my four years. And “thank you” to my teammates for staying down and working hard.
“Coach Huggs, man, he gave me an opportunity, like I said. That’s all I got to say. A great coach, man, a great person off the court, and it’s been fun. I wish we would have kept going, but I enjoyed every moment.”
For his part, Huggins detailed how the duo set a new tone for a Mountaineer program that, while not destitute, had been saddled with some players who had less than 100% interest. Miles and Carter came in and changed that, while in the meantime inscribing their names on numerous career record lists.
“These two guys have been — as good of players as they are, and they’re very good players — they’re going to go down as the best four-year backcourt in the history of West Virginia basketball, and that’s saying a lot. But what they do off the floor, they’re both really good students. They’re both going to graduate on time.
And we get a lot of requests from people, whether someone was in an auto accident, somebody’s got cancer, whatever, and you say, we need some volunteers to go to the hospital, these are the first two guys that put their hands up.
They do everything right, they came in — we were struggling. We were struggling. I think that I didn’t — I underestimated the switch from the Big East and how they played in the Big East to the Big 12, and we had the wrong kind of guys. And these guys came in, and we had guys that really didn’t love to play, and we made a conscious effort to recruit guys who really love to play.
These two guys are — they’re at the head of that class though. They work. They work every day in practice. They’re coachable. I’ve never had one complaint about either one of them. I’ve never had one issue with either one of them. They’re great people.”
The pain of the Villanova loss was tough to take — and for no one more than the trio at the postgame podium. But that was just a couple of hours, and it can’t compare at all to the lifetime bonds that players and coach have built.