Thrill of the Garden

WVU head coach Bob Huggins hasn't lost the thrill of playing at Madison Square Garden, and he hopes that his players, especially the newcomers, share in that excitement.

Huggins, who has played and coached a number of times in the World's Most Famous Arena, said it's still a special feeling to prowl the sidelines for a game at the corner of 31st and 8th in New York City. As his team prepares to face St. John's there on Wednesday evening, he believes the anticipation of that game should serve to have his team ready to play.

"I tell them you are getting ready to play in largest city and most famous arena in the world," he said. "How could you not be excited about that? As a player, I couldn't wait to play there. That should be a dream come true for the freshmen. The Garden is still special So much history, so many great players have played there. When I was at Cincinnati, being around Oscar [Robertson], he'd talk about the Garden. It's a great venue to play [in]."

With that to look forward too, Huggins was not concerned that his team would be looking ahead to Saturday's game against league leader Syracuse.

"I can't imagine they aren't going to be excited, but they've tricked me before," he said wryly.

Huggins also noted that it's an advantage for his team to play in the Garden in the regular season, since the Big East tournament is held in the same venue. For veterans such as Truck Bryant, Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli, that's not as important, but for the newcomers it;s a big deal. Huggins has never played or coached at St. John's on-campus venue.


Huggins brief description of St. John's, which, like his team, features a number of newcomers: "Their young guys are more athletic than ours."

Longer assessment: "I think they are getting better and better. They had a great chance to beat Villanova at home. [De'Angelo] Harrison has played really well. They are really talented, and you can see that in the recruiting class they had which was rated so highly.

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Huggins believes his team hasn't handled defeats very well – but that's the way he likes it. He doesn't want anyone getting used to losing, or accepting it as a matter of course. He reinforces that with harder work when he senses a lack of effort or concentration in practice or games.

"They are here all summer. They lift, they run, and obviously they play," he said. "Before the season starts, they lift and run to get in shape to practice. Our practices are hard. So why game. Why would you go through all of that and not show up or play hard in the games?"

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West Virginia's players enjoyed a day and a half of down time on Saturday (following the game) and Sunday, but were right back to work on Monday to prepare for a three-games-in-six-days grind.

"That should be enough [rest]," Huggins said. "They're 18 years old."

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St. John's head coach Steve Lavin has missed almost all of the season as he recovers from cancer surgery. His place has been filled by assistant Mike Dunlap, who has done well in guiding a very inexperienced squad to an 8-9 record. Huggins, while noting that he wasn't sure of all the dynamics of the situation, noted that it has probably been better from the team's perspective to work with just one "head coach" this year.

"It might be rougher if he had been there sometimes and then in and out," Huggins observed. "But all of the preseason and pretty much everything else has been done without Steve being there."

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