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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Brotherly love

    West Virginia coach Bob Huggins looks on during his teams practice Wednesday afternoon in the Verizon Center in Washington, DC.  Coaches Huggins and ONeill have coached against eachother in the past.
    West Virginia coach Bob Huggins looks on during his team’s practice Wednesday afternoon in the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. Coaches Huggins and O’Neill have coached against eachother in the past.

    The Arizona and West Virginia men’s basketball teams may not be very familiar with each other, having only played four times ever, the last time being a decade and a half ago.

    But the teams’ coaches are no strangers.

    WVU head coach Bob Huggins and UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill go way back, back to the late 1980s and early ’90s when O’Neill’s Marquette teams faced Huggins’ Cincinnati squads.

    Yet the two men were far from enemies.

    Sure, they’ll take a stab at one another every now and then. But enemies? Hardly.

    “”It’s a little known fact that he was an academic All-American,”” O’Neill said of Huggins. “”But when you speak to him you’ll find that hard to believe.””

    It’s not a malicious attack. Instead, call it brotherly love.

    “”We’re longtime friends,”” O’Neill said. “”I have great respect for Bob. He’s one of the most underrated coaches in this game.””

    Huggins echoed the remark thousands of miles away in West Virginia

    “”Kevin and I go way back to when we were both assistants,”” he said. “”That great rivalry, that great time, that great friendship. We’ve had a great relationship over the years.””

    In those golden days, the two coaches hung out while recruiting for their respective teams. They shared many laughs and many times that they’d rather not disclose.

    “”There’s some things that Bob and I should not talk about to anyone, believe me,”” O’Neill said with a smile. “”We were young and very foolish. Very many nights. Bob and I used to hang out like frat brothers. We’ve grown out of that I think. We’ll find out.””

    Added Huggins: “”I couldn’t tell you everything I know about Kevin. That wouldn’t be good.””

    O’Neill said he respects Huggins as a coach, calling him “”one of the most underrated coaches”” in college basketball.

    “”Just look at his victory totals,”” O’Neill said.

    Huggins led Cincinnati to a 399-127 record from 1989-2005 before he resigned three years before his contract ended because of a driving under the influence arrest. He went to Kansas State in 2006 and left after a season to coach at his alma mater, West Virginia. The Mountaineers went 24-10 this year.

    “”It looks like he’s found his home where he wants to stay,”” O’Neill said.

    Huggins, whose 614 wins ranks him fifth among active coaches, coached in the 1992 Final Four, the 1993 Elite Eight, the 1996 Elite Eight and the 2001 Sweet 16.

    O’Neill hinted that those NCAA Tournament runs could only be the beginning.

    “”The guy – if he lives long enough – will have the chance to get 250, 275 (more) wins,”” O’Neill said.

    Huggins, now 54, suffered a massive heart attack at a Pittsburgh airport while recruiting in September 2002. He was saved by a defibrillator and was back to practice within two weeks.

    “”As I told him at the time, he’s way too stubborn to let a heart attack kill him,”” O’Neill joked. “”If he lives, he’s going to win a whole bunch more games.””

    That part wasn’t a joke.

    – Michael Schwartz contributed reporting

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