Bob Huggins isn't hard to read. The West Virginia head basketball coach answers questions directly, although usually in a low, calm voice. When he wants to make a point, though, it comes across in both tone and emotions, as it did when asked about the effects of frustration on his team's play on Saturday evening.
First, a bit of backdrop. During the player interview session, which immediately proceeds that of Huggins, there was a palpable sense of frustration coming from guys like Devin Williams and Tarik Phillip. While they weren't moping, it was clear that they weren't happy with the way things have gone over the past couple of weeks. Add that to several demonstrable showings on the court, where complaints and bad body language were evident, and it seemed obvious that the mental outlook of the team wasn't the best.
Also know that Huggins never speculates on what his players are thinking. When asked such questions, he says, "You'd need to ask them. I have no idea what goes on in their heads."
Understand that Huggins isn't being rude, or dodging the question. He simply doesn't spend time trying to figure those things out. He sometimes jokes "I don't want to think like them," thereby encapsulating the difference between coach and player, as well as the age gap between them, but again, that's not done with malice. As always, he's saying exactly what he thinks.
Huggins is also a master at using the media to get a point across -- particularly one that he thinks his players might not be grasping fully -- and will often use interview sessions to do that. No foul there either, but sometimes it takes the conversation in a bit of a different direction.
Near the end of his postgame session, he was asked if he thought the team's frustration level was affecting its play. And while his answer didn't echo the word "frustration" -- he used" "feeling sorry for themselves" -- it was clear that he was taking the opportunity to send a message.
"I know this. I know that the people I want on my side are the people that are gonna be pissed off, not feelig sorry for themselves," he said with intensity. "I don't want those guys on my side. I don't ever want to go into competion with guys who are feeling sorry for themselves with their head down."
As this is the first time such a message has been delivered this year publicly, perhaps it was just a warning shot. He has been complimentary all year of his team's coachability, comparing it favorably to squads of a few years ago that weren't as intense. Whether he sensed a budding problem, was reacting to the question itself or just wanted to emphasize what he told the team in the locker room moments before, there was no doubt that he wanted to remove any excuse-making or pity from their approach.
"Oklahoma had lost two games in a row and it seemed to me like they came in here that way [pissed off]," Huggins noted. "I told [the players] in the locker room your'e not much of a competitor if you don't respond that way.
"At the same time, when we have two-footers, we have to make them. We can't come down three-on-two and throw the ball out of bounds. [WVU play-by-play man] Tony [Caridi] said we were 3-13 on layups. You have to score those, or a majority of those. Make some free throws,. Guard your man. There's things that you can do. If they are feeling sorry for themselves then I have the wrong guys. And if I have guys that are feeling sorry for themselves tomorrow then you probably won't see them next year. I want guys that are gonna compete. I want guys that are pissed off, becasue I am pissed off. Let's go win."
Drop microphone, and exit stage right. The message has been delivered. It remains to be seen if it will be assimilated.