huggins fistbump

WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins fist-bumps Wyatt Cash, 3, of Nitro, as his mother Kristen Cash looks on during an autograph session at Sport Fanz Collectibles Saturday in Hurricane.

Bob Huggins just spent 10 days touring Spain with his players, getting ready for the upcoming season. Now, the West Virginia University men’s basketball coach is touring his home state, all in the name of some goodwill.

Huggins made his latest stop Saturday at Sports Fanz Collectibles in Hurricane to sign autographs and take pictures with the Mountaineer faithful, with the proceeds going to the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Research Endowment Fund. The fund, created by Huggins to honor his mother who died from colon cancer in 2003, goes toward research at the WVU Cancer Institute. As of May this year, Huggins has helped raise over $5 million for the fund.

He recently partnered with Wal-Mart to help deliver school supplies and sports equipment to White Hall Elementary, and he’s got another event scheduled for Monday in Ripley.

“It’s really important,” Huggins said of these fundraising events. “I was with my little brother yesterday, and he’s done a couple events and he was delivering some money to the cancer center. I think most people saw the Wal-Mart deal that I did the other day and I’m getting ready to do one Monday in Ripley, and that’s for [the] cancer [institute]. It’s a big part of what I do in the off-season.”

Huggins, who’s on-court demeanor can be best described as “surly,” was anything but Saturday, greeting each fan with a warm smile and a soft voice — a disposition that has earned him the moniker of “Huggy Bear” with his loyal fan base.

A Morgantown native who took over for the Mountaineers in 2007, he grew up a WVU fan and his family has always been heavily involved with the university.

“I was joking with [former WVU great] Rod Thorn, I used to listen when Rod was playing,” he said. “I would sit on my grandfather’s lap as a kid and listen to WVU games, and then get the clothes basket out and put it at the top of the stairs and try to shoot it into the clothes basket. My dad actually played for WVU for awhile, my mom grew up on Eighth Street, which is right down the hill [from the WVU Coliseum], so our family has always been very engaged in what goes on in Morgantown and West Virginia University.”

Pressed about the upcoming season, Huggins showed a flash of his quick wit and was upbeat about his young group.

“Well, I think I misspoke earlier, I don’t think there is an off-season. Is there? I’m not sure,” he joked. “We just got back from Spain for 10 days and actually our guys are in Nemacolin [Resort in Pennsylvania] now for some team-bonding. When we get them back, we’re allowed four hours a week with them, so we’ll get going with that.

“But the guys have been great. This group has been, to this point anyway, coachable, and is together and enjoying each other’s company as much as any group we’ve had in awhile.”

Despite what many considered to be a disappointing season last year, Huggins still sees enthusiasm at each of his stops, something he credits to West Virginians’ love of their home state.

“I understand better than most people who have been in my position how much it means to be from West Virginia,” he said. “It’s an amazing thing. I talked to the Nike people when we first got started and told them we were going to sell a bunch of stuff. And they said ‘Well, Huggs, you only got 1.5 million people.’

“And I said ‘You don’t understand. When you grow up in this state, and you move somewhere else, you’re still a die-hard West Virginia fan, regardless of where you go.’ West Virginia never leaves them.”