College basketball: West Virginia’s Bob Huggins goes after 800th win

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins always wanted to be a basketball player. Coaching wasn’t on his early list of career options.

Huggins will go after coaching win No. 800 on Saturday when No. 12 West Virginia (8-1) takes on Missouri-Kansas City (7-5), the same team Kansas’ Bill Self notched his 600th career win against earlier this month.

Huggins said he doesn’t think about such things unless someone brings it up.

“I don’t know if it’s sunk in,” he said. “I really don’t think about the past. I try to live in the present.”

The 800-win club will have a few new members this season.

Huggins will be the 10th coach of a men’s team with a minimum of 10 years in Division I to get there. Former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino, 82, became the ninth on Wednesday night at NAIA Keiser. North Carolina’s Roy Williams is expected to reach the feat this season.

Growing up in Morgantown, Huggins cherishes the memory of sitting in his grandfather’s lap listening to West Virginia games on the radio. All he wanted to do was play basketball.

Coaching wasn’t high on the list even though his father, Charlie, molded three state high school champion teams in Ohio.

“I think, to a large degree, my dad said ‘you don’t want to do that,'” Huggins said. “I never have listened much to my dad, obviously.”

Charlie Huggins said coaching comes with a caveat.

“We tried to explain to him that it would be a lot of work and not much money,” the elder Huggins said.

Nonetheless, his son’s 800th will be a proud moment.

“It’s been a long haul,” Charlie Huggins said. “It’s amazing. It’s really hard to believe.”

Bob Huggins’ playing aspirations ended after he was cut by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1977. West Virginia coach Joedy Gardner offered him a graduate assistant position, enabling him to finish his master’s degree in health administration.

“I figure I could get my master’s degree paid for. But I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Huggins said.

At one time or another he mulled becoming a doctor or an attorney. But basketball stuck.

He spent two years as an assistant under Eldon Miller at Ohio State, then became a head coach at age 27 at Walsh College in 1980. Most of his wins came during 16 seasons at Cincinnati before being fired in 2005 in a power struggle with the school’s president. He spent one season at Kansas State and took his dream job at West Virginia in 2007.

Coaching wasn't always in the cards for West Virginia's Bob Huggins, but his fire and passion have endured.

Ben Queen | USA Today Sports Images

Coaching wasn’t always in the cards for West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, but his fire and passion have endured.

His sideline rants haven’t slowed down. Players and referees still get a tongue lashing in front of thousands of fans. His home-state fans will especially remember him for coming to the aide of star player Da’Sean Butler in the 2010 Final Four in Indianapolis. Facing Duke in the semifinals, Butler fell to the floor with a serious knee injury. Huggins cradled Butler’s head, stroked his face and offered some calming words as trainers worked on him.

Huggins, 63, has endured just three losing seasons, two of which occurred in his first four seasons of coaching. His wife was asked recently if she thought he could last 10 more years.

“She said, ‘I don’t know about him, but I can’t,'” Huggins recalled.

Coaching pal John Calipari at Kentucky tried to put Huggins’ impending feat into perspective.

“It means two things,” Calipari said in a short video sent to Huggins. “One, you’re getting old. And the second thing, if you had played me more, you’d had got there quicker! Congrats man. Happy for you.”

This article was written by John Raby from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.