WVU basketball coaches each other's biggest fans
MORGANTOWN - They will look very different Wednesday night when they coach their West Virginia teams against their Marshall counterparts in the Capital Classic in the Charleston Civic Center.
Mike Carey will be the mustachioed one, probably in a suit with a tie, with the thinning hair he sometimes runs his fingers through as he coaches one of the best women's teams in America.
Bob Huggins normally opts for the clean shave, and his fuller head of hair is combed back - though his men's team this season has sometimes driven him to hair-pulling extremes. Quite likely, he'll wear the black Nike pullover that fans of opposing teams, for some reason, absolutely detest.
Forget the garments and hairstyles, though. Discard all the superficial stuff and imagine the men with a dry-erase board in their hands, film to devour or a practice to lead.
Mike Carey and Bob Huggins are, in so many ways, the same type of coach.
"They're both really into intensity and playing physically," said Craig Carey, who is Mike Carey's son and a walk-on for Huggins' team. "Instead of running real pretty plays, they're both more into gritty, tough offense and tough defense.
"They want to get into people. They really like to intimidate and play physical."
Neither coach is going to recruit the best of the best, although Carey has entertained and landed some elite recruits while at WVU. Mostly, though, those top-shelf players go to top-shelf programs, the kind of places where a coach can pick who he wants and the player is honored to be chosen.
Yet Carey and Huggins win, and usually it's because they've instilled in their players an instinct to want the loose ball, the tough rebound, the critical and-1 more than the opponent. That can trump talent, especially if it spreads to the things both coaches value most.
"They both feel like if they can outrebound people and guard people, they're going to win most of their games," Craig Carey said.
Mike Carey and Huggins put an aggressive emphasis on defense and rebounding. It's hard work, but it's a basic basketball philosophy. Get more possessions, get more shots, get more points, get the win.
It's an admired ability, too.
"I love watching them practice," Coach Carey said of the WVU men's team. "I can sit there and pick up new ideas and different ways to teach things because, really, it's the same style. (Huggins) wants to rebound and to play defense. He wants to be physical and create turnovers and get up and down. We try to do the same things."
Huggins agrees because he, too, is a fan of the team on the other side of the Coliseum and he sees in Carey and his team many things he sees in his team and himself.
"I watch them practice all the time," Huggins said. "They're really good. Mike's a heck of a coach. You watch them and you can tell they're very sound and very solid with what they do.
Defensively they do a great job fortifying the basket. They run good, solid offense. They play together and share the ball."
Offensively, the coaches subscribe to the same systems, but to separate styles. They both run motion offense, where the players have to understand one another and anticipate how teammates will play without the benefit of clearly defined sets, but the coaches motion the ball to the basket in different methods.
The goal is to get open shots and ones close to the basket, but the personnel allows for varied plans.
"I think you have to separate them because it's guys and girls, but also because my dad has such good post players that he likes to go four-out, one-in and send cutters," Craig Carey said.
"Our offense is more five-out, but if we run it enough we'll end up with the same four-out, one-in and someone getting a shot close. They're actually pretty similar. They start different, but they both want to get it inside."
The chemistry and generosity that drives the offense has been a staple for Mike Carey's ninth-ranked team (17-1) this season. It's only come to define Huggins' No. 21, newly ranked team (12-4) lately, when the Mountaineers have won four straight games.
The timing of the synchronization aside, it was a major talking point for both coaches in the preseason.
And it must be noted Huggins and Carey have a, shall we say, effective way of communicating with their players, but of also building a strong bond.
"Both their coaching styles are real intense and real hands-on with everything," said Craig Carey, who volunteered to help his dad's team last season. "They're both really vocal. If they see something or if they think something, they're not going to hold back. They don't worry about people's feelings. They definitely get their point across on everything they see."
The instruction and the relationship between players and coach are vital because both coaches put a lot on their players. It's clicked for Carey and Huggins this season.
Carey welcomed back every player with a meaningful role from last season's NCAA Tournament team, but he also blended in a bunch of transfers and freshmen and asked to play well and compliment seniors this season. They've done just that.
Huggins had a harder task because of who he lost from a Final Four club, and how he needed to elevate many players into new or expanded roles this season. Things are just now, they believe, falling into place behind established veterans.
"He's got a great upper class that leads," Huggins said of the WVU women. "Having young players isn't a bad thing because they do bring a lot of youthful exuberance, but I can't be on the floor during games, just like he can't be on the floor.
"I think his upperclasswomen have done a great job carrying his message on the floor, which makes all the difference in the world for your team when you can get people in the right spots and communicating to play together."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.