All About Bob

Andy Kennedy says he owes much to several coaches for helping him in his career. Bob Huggins, who brings his West Virginia team to Oxford for a game Wednesday at 8 p.m., gets top billing.

"He's had the most influence," said Kennedy, who was an assistant at Cincinnati for four years when Huggins led the program.

But there are others who Kennedy is quick to give plenty of credit.

Jim Valvano was his first college coach when he was at North Carolina State, and at UAB he played for Gene Bartow. Valvano won a national title with the Wolfpack, and Bartow had success at the University of Memphis (then known as Memphis State), UCLA, and started the basketball program at UAB.

Followers of college basketball the past three decades would recognize all three of them as influential and successful coaches.

"I've been very fortunate from a player and a coaching standpoint to be around three guys in the late Jim Valvano, Gene Bartow, and Bob Huggins," Kennedy said, "and they are all three completely different as it relates to personalities and how they go about running their teams. I've taken a little bit from all of them."

A younger Kennedy was around Valvano and Bartow, while an older Kennedy close to getting his first head college coaching job learned from Huggins.

"Obviously Hugs' influence and me having the opportunity to sit to his right-hand for four years and learn and see the inner workings of a top 20 program and learn from him was tremendously valuable," said Kennedy, in his third year as head coach at Ole Miss. "We've tried to bring a lot of the same concepts with us here."

Their friendship won't necessarily be tested Wednesday night, but their teams will be. The Rebels are 5-1 but have struggled to find themselves early this season. The Mountaineers, normally a high-scoring unit, got only 43 points in their last outing, an 11-point loss to Kentucky in a tournament in Las Vegas.

West Virginia went to the Sweet Sixteen last season. Kennedy said he doesn't know how his team will respond to playing a team of WVU's caliber at home.

"We'll find out," he said. "I do know that for the first time they may see Tad Smith Coliseum as it will be when we get into league play. That's certainly the hope. That's what we need. A lot of our guys have not experienced that."

When Huggins was relieved of his duties at Cincinnati and Kennedy was appointed interim head coach prior to the 2005-06 season, Kennedy went to talk to Huggins before accepting.

"When the whole thing went down and I was offered the (interim) job, I went to him first and made sure he was OK with it," said Kennedy, who led the Bearcats to a 21-13 record and an NIT appearance before getting the Ole Miss job just days after that season. "He absolutely was. We didn't want to leave those kids. They hadn't asked to be put in that position. We wanted to make sure we took care of them first, but I was not going to do that without his blessing. Our relationship actually got stronger and remains strong to this day as evidenced by him bringing his team to Oxford."

Kennedy is hopeful of a lot of support from Rebel fans for this one, which he says will be a key to helping his team in its efforts to win an important game.

"We've had good crowds but they've never experienced the electricity that's going to be generated Wednesday night," Kennedy said of his younger players. "And it will be against a team that's a quality opponent from a quality league that's coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance from last year and is now coming off a defeat (to Kentucky). They've dealt with a little adversity. I know Coach (Huggins) is going to have them playing at a high level. Hopefully we're up to the challenge."

It's a game Kennedy is obviously excited about.

"I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a challenge obviously. But I think our guys will be excited, and I hope we'll have some people in the building and that it will give (our players) a real feel for what it's going to be like once we get into league play. I know they're looking forward to everything that this game will bring."

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