WVU basketball: Huggins says young Robert Morris coach needs to be himself
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bob Huggins is in the early stage of his 29th season as a college head basketball coach. Tonight, he'll lead West Virginia against Robert Morris and its first-year coach, Andrew Toole.
Toole was hired in May, when he was 29 years old.
Huggins was hired by the NAIA's Walsh College in Akron when he was 27 in 1980 after working two seasons as the third assistant at Ohio State. Two years later, Huggins was 29 and Walsh was 30-0 in the regular season before winning four more games and qualifying for the NAIA national tournament.
"I can only tell you what I thought," Huggins said. "I was in a great situation at Ohio State with a great team coming back. I just didn't feel like I had much impact four chairs down. When you're four chairs down, you tell the guy next to you, who tells the guy next to you, who tells the head coach. There's a lot that gets lost in translation."
The Mountaineers (5-2) put their 32-game December home winning streak on the line when they play host to the Colonials (3-4) at 7 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum. West Virginia also has won 32 straight non-conference home games.
It's a return to the Mountaineer schedule for Robert Morris, from nearby Coraopolis, Pa. The colonials visited the WVU Coliseum 20 times from 1987-88 through 2001-02, winning only twice.
Neither Huggins, 57, nor Toole, who turned 30 in September, did much of an apprenticeship as an assistant. Huggins was a graduate assistant at WVU in 1977-78 and was then hired by the Buckeyes.
Toole, who graduated from Penn in 2003 when Huggins was in the 14th of his 16 seasons at Cincinnati, was an assistant at Lafayette in 2006-07 and then at Robert Morris from 2007-10.
He took over a talented team vacated by Mike Rice's coaching move to Rutgers. The Colonials were picked to finish No. 2 in the Northeast Conference.
"What I really think is you have to be yourself," Huggins said. "I think a lot of young coaches make the mistake of trying to be somebody they're not. I think you saw that with Coach (Bob) Knight.
"He had all those coaching academies and all those things and everybody would leave and say, 'By God, I'm going to be like Coach Knight.' There's only one Coach Knight. Coach Knight is the only guy who could handle things the way he handled things."
Toole has had immediate challenges this season. Sophomore Karon Abraham was arrested last month and charged with four alcohol-related offenses, including two for driving under the influence. The 2010 conference rookie of the year, Abraham has been suspended the past four games.
"We constantly try to educate and stress to our guys the importance of making good decisions and being good citizens," Toole said when the punishment was announced. "Karon made a mistake and he's going to have to face the consequences of this mistake."
Abraham, a 5-foot-9, 150-pound guard, averages 14 points per game. He was leading the team in scoring when he was suspended. Sophomore forward Russell Johnson now leads the team in scoring (14.7) and rebounding (7.7) The Colonials, who gave Villanova fits in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, are 1-3 without Abraham.
"You coach your personality," Huggins said. "What happens sometimes is I think guys decide they want to be someone they're not. You can go out for two or three days and try to emulate it and then all of a sudden you're back to being yourself and everyone looks around and says, 'Who the hell is this guy?' I think you have to be consistent with what you do. It's hard to make them consistent when you're not consistent."
Robert Morris has beaten Saint Peter's (N.J.), Long Island and Duquesne, but counts losses to Pitt, Kent State, Cleveland State and St. Francis (N.Y.) Saturday. Abraham has not been reinstated.
"(Abraham) is very important to their team," Huggins said. "He's got experience, he's got great ball skills and he can make shots. They're what we were in Charleston with what they've gone through for four games."
Huggins kept guard Truck Bryant and forward Danny Jennings out of the lineup against VMI Nov. 27 at the Charleston Civic Center. The Mountaineers struggled with different lineups before pulling away for an 82-66 victory.
WVU responded by beating American, 71-50, Dec. 1, but lost at Miami on Saturday, 79-76, despite leading by 13 with 12 minutes to play. The Mountaineers fell to 71-7 under Huggins when they lead at the half and 77-4 when they lead by at least 10 points.
WVU shot 51.9 percent in the second half and 43.6 percent in the game even with Casey Mitchell going 5-for-15 and 3-for-10 from 3-point range and forward Kevin Jones shooting 5-for-17. Starting forward Deniz Kilicli was 0-for-1 with no points, one rebound and three turnovers in just nine minutes.
The defense couldn't deter Miami's driving guards and then switched to a zone that gave up jumpers. Huggins also disliked his team's rebounding and passing and said some players are thinking too much and not reacting enough.
He can fall back on his experience to fix the problems.
"I've coached close to a thousand games or somewhere in there," said Huggins, who has coached 918 games as a head coach, 88 as an assistant and 28 as a graduate assistant. "You see a lot of things. It's easier to see and recognize things after you've seen them a bunch of times.
"When you haven't seen them, you can't substitute for that. If you do your job and go back and study tape, you can see why certain things happen. You're more apt to recognize than you would be if you haven't seen it before."