Bob Huggins didn’t particularly want to talk about reaching 900 career coaching victories.
He really didn’t.
Yet the more the veteran West Virginia University head basketball coach discussed the iconic quest he is only two games short of achieving, the more he couldn’t stop talking about it.
It was akin to tapping a keg.
“Honestly, I don’t think about it,” said Huggins during a Zoom meeting on Monday. “I don’t really pay any attention. It’s hard. You turn on the TV and Roy [North Carolina head coach Roy Williams] is going for his 900th win. Well, Roy and I are friends. I’m happy for Roy.
“I have the utmost respect for Coach [Bobby] Knight, and Coach Knight grew up just up the road from where I was in Ohio, so Coach Knight was a legend and I admired those guys. I appreciate those guys. I appreciate what those guys did for guys like me, who came after them.”
Huggins simply refuses to put himself on that plateau.
“I would hope that people would not look at guys like Roy and I, not in that light,” he said, “because those guys to me are icons. They are the Jerry West of coaches, that’s what they are.
“But hopefully they learned some things from us and could take some of what we’ve done over the course of 35-40 years and continue to make this game the greatest game that there is. That, to me, is what’s important. I’m not all caught up in all that other stuff and I never have been.”
Despite Huggins’ naysaying, the floodgates damming Memory Lane were suddenly thrown wide open.
“Coach Knight gave me a lot of advice,” said Huggins. “Particularly toward the end of when he was coaching. It was one of those, ‘Hey, come over here and sit down, I need to talk to you.’ And I’d say, ‘Yes sir.’
“I’ve had a blast, man. I spent a lot of time around Al McGuire [famous Marquette coach]. Charlie Spoonhour [former head coach at Southwest Missouri State, St. Louis and UNLV) was fantastic for me because he kind of took the edge off.
“I’ve been blessed, man. I’ve spent a lot of time with Mike Krzyzewski [iconic Duke coach]. I spent time with the greatest coaches. I was at Hawaii and we were playing and I get a call from the front desk and they said, ‘There’s a guy down here who wants to talk to you.’ I said, ‘Who is it?’ He said, ‘Pete Newell.’ And I said, ‘I’ll be right there.’ ”
Newell was famous in the coaching ranks for his ability to work with big men.
“I’ve been blessed to be around the greatest minds in basketball and I’ve been able to spend time with them,” pointed out Huggins. “I was with Coach Iba [the late Hank Iba, who coached the United States to Olympic gold medals in 1964 and 1968]. I’ll tell you a real funny Coach Iba story real quick.
“Larry Gibson, a very, very dear friend of mine who worked my dad’s camp forever, called me and asked what I was doing on Wednesday. And I said, ‘Well, I’ve got ...’ And he said, ‘Tell them you can’t do it. Coach Iba is coming in. Coach Iba wanted to know if you were going to be there. And I told him I would call you.’ So, long story short, I fly out to Miami, Oklahoma.
“They introduce me to Coach Iba and I’m sitting there talking to him. The minute practice started, Coach Iba turned his back to me and started watching practice. He was making notes the whole practice. As soon as practice was over with, I mean the minute it was over, he turned around and got right in the same conversation he had been in two and a half hours before.”
Next, it was time for lunch.
“We’re sitting there and the waitress comes around and says, ‘What would you like to drink?’ ” said Huggins. “Larry says, ‘sweet tea’ and his assistant says, ‘sweet tea,’ and I say, ‘unsweetened tea,’ and Coach Iba says, ‘I want some bourbon and I don’t want one of them there newspaper drinks.’ And she says, ‘Excuse me?’ And he says, ‘I don’t want one of them there newspaper drinks.’ She mumbled something and went back.
“When she came back and gave us the tea and gave Coach Iba the glass, he looked at it and said, ‘Honey, I told you I didn’t want one of them there newspaper drinks.’ And she said, ‘Sir, I don’t know what that is.’ And he said, ‘If I can hold a newspaper up and see through this drink, you ain’t put enough bourbon in it.’ And I laughed.”
That’s why the word “blessed” kept creeping into his conversation.
“I guess that’s what I’m trying to tell you,” said Huggins. “Very few people my age got to spend time with those kind of guys. And I treasure them. The greatest thing to happen to me was getting the Nike deal and getting on the circuit where we did the clinics.
“I would be the first one there. I’d be like the dog sitting at the door wanting to get in. I’d get in there and I wouldn’t say anything. I’d just sit there. I’m there with Louie Carnesecca, Lute Olsen, Tark [UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian] ... you name it, everybody you can think of and they’re there.
“And just to sit there and listen to them tell stories ... I mean, what a great deal. I’m blessed. I was in my 20s. How many guys my age are able to walk into a room like that with those kind of legends in there? I’d just go sit in the corner and mind my own business. And Valvano ... I spent a lot of time with Jimmy V.”
Bob Huggins is 67 years old and can’t believe how fortunate he has been.
“Blessed,” he said. “That’s the only way I can put it. I’m blessed to grow up at the right time in the right era. I’ve been blessed to be around the best.”
Now, Huggins is about to join them.