MORGANTOWN — Not too long ago in a season undulating toward the finish, West Virginia built a huge lead and watched it slip away. This may sound like a story you’ve heard before, but it is not. This is the story about how and why Bob Huggins met the man who has parodied him for more than five years on Twitter.
“Much younger than I thought he would be,” the Mountaineer basketball coach said.
Forgive Huggins for not knowing how to size up anyone these days. Have you been following the ninth-ranked Mountaineers (20-6, 8-5 Big 12)? Surely you remember Jan. 28. It was the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, and they were in the midst of an identity crisis that persists, struggling to maintain the leverage they wield to take big leads against both good teams and bad.
WVU survived Texas A&M’s rally to win 81-77, and Matt Wells, the senior associate athletic director, decided to introduce Huggins to the man responsible for the keystrokes that define @FakeBobHuggins.
Wells has known the identity of the fake Huggins for a year or so now. The fake Huggins discovered he and Wells had something in common and reached out to begin what’s become a friendly relationship. But Wells has known the real Huggins longer, and maybe he knew Huggins needed a laugh where he could find one.
The fake Huggins was at the game, which is a rarity, so Wells took him to WVU’s bench afterward. The real Huggins smiled, and the two spoke for several minutes.
“I told him he is really funny,” Huggins said.
What does it say these days when Huggins met a man who’s imitated him for years and extended his hand for a shake and not a smack? What does it say that the athletic department is willing to facilitate a meeting, never mind embrace the tweets?
“I think the thing for me that made me feel comfortable is I kept hearing people say, ‘Hey, did you see that Fake Huggins tweet?’ ” Wells said. “This is around the athletic department, among the coaching staff, among the people associated with the program. ‘Hey that one was pretty good. Did you see this one?’ ”
What it says is @FakeBobHuggins is real good. It’s not your typical parody, if for no other reason than it possesses the endorsement of the man it aims to mimic. It has accomplished the mission that began in November 2011, three months before Huggins joined Twitter and when a young professional decided to fill that void.
“Huggins seemed like such an accessible guy,” said the fake Huggins, who, understandably, wants to keep his identity a secret. “The Final Four year I think gave us great insight to him as a person: the speech after UConn, the way he held Da’Sean [Butler] and wiped his tears. I decided my portrayal of Huggins would be maybe just slightly exaggerated Huggins. Or maybe an unfiltered Huggins.”
The fake Huggins is invested, but he’s informed, too. He was born in Morgantown. His family had season tickets for men’s basketball for many years, and he was a ball boy for a while. He graduated from WVU and he met his wife while she was in school there. Their first date was a Mountaineers football game.
“This is just something I do on the side as a creative outlet,” he said. “Some people craft. Some people bake. I tweet. Ultimately I’m just a fan — a very, very big fan. It’s in my blood.”
He’s gained more than 8,900 followers and tweeted more than 8,000 times, and the real Huggins has been as entertained as anyone else along the way.
“I didn’t know what it was for a long time,” Huggins said. “You have to understand, I got into Twitter way after everyone else. Honestly, the first one I saw was the one about Truck, and I laughed like crazy. I thought it was hilarious. And most of them are. There’s a point, sometimes, to what he says.”
The first one Huggins remembers is one of the very best. In the summer of 2013, Morgantown drivers were learning to use a roundabout at a busy intersection at Route 705 and Mileground Road. On June 26, 2013, the fake Huggins crafted a hashtag for a series of tweets. One stood out.
“Truck Bryant pulls right into oncoming traffic. Only converts on 8 of 20 attempts. #FirstTimeontheMilegroundRoundabout”
It was a perfect introduction to the real Huggins. Bryant, the former point guard, had a habit of dribbling and driving into crowds and taking and missing shots, and a lot of people in town were having issues or experiences at the roundabout. Two crowds merged into one, and Huggins’ daughter, Jenna, was one of the hashtag’s fans. She and the fake Huggins have also become friendly through the years.
“The football one was good, too,” the real Huggins said before a offering a pretty accurate recollection of the text and context of a tweet from Nov. 5, the day Kansas football lost to WVU.
“BREAKING: Kansas to start Frank Mason III at RB. Though undersized, Jayhawks coaches hope his stiff arm will earn him extra yardage #WVU”
Among the fake Huggins’ longstanding gags and messages — and there are many, including Valentine’s Day cards, drinking game rules that broadcast teams are actually reading, critiques about officials and a catalog of gifs — are the persistent reminders that the Kansas point guard uses his off arm to create space between himself and defenders.
“It showed him coming down the floor and stiff-arming people,” Huggins remembered. “He had about six pictures of it, and it kind of made a point. But it was funny. I guess Frank Mason didn’t think it was funny, but everyone else did.”
Mason was not among the 47 people to retweet or the 55 to like the tweet.
“I’ll admit that sometimes the tweets are funny to just me and maybe a few others, and that’s OK,” the fake Huggins said. “I’m not going to be all things for all people at all times. But it is really fun when there’s interaction and agreement.
“It’s an incredibly unifying experience to connect with WVU fans all across the country who are equally as passionate, in both the good times and the bad. There are some emotions that are shared by WVU fans, and I like being able to play a small part in rallying us together.”