There are different ways in which the pupil-mentor relationship, especially ones forged in coaching ranks, can play out. Sometimes, it all goes sideways, as we've seen in relationships such as Eric Mangini - Bill Belichick in the NFL. Sometimes it stays in an almost hero-worship mode. In this instance, however, former Bob Huggins assistant Brad Underwood strikes just the right tone between paying respect and accepting the challenge of defeating his former boss.
Underwood, who served under Huggins during the latter's one year at Kansas State, used the term "Hall of Fame coach" more than once in describing the Mountaineer head man.
"He has 800 wins (actually 791) so it doesn't shock me that he's 13-0 in the first round of the NCAAs," Underwood said. "We're going to do our best to make that 13-1, but you're not going to outcoach Bob Huggins. You just hope he doesn't outcoach you."
Underwood's year at K-State with Huggins went beyond the normal coach-assistant relationship. As a Wildcat alumus, Underwood had seen glory days of the program, but also saw it fall on some tough times. However, in just one year, Huggins had the program moving in the right direction again, which made a big impact on Underwood personally as well as professionally.
"He gave K-State hope," Underwood said. "He has such a magnetic personality, and people gravitate toward him. Being an alum, it gave me great pride to be a part of that. Learning from him was such a great opportunity. You're talking about a Hall of Fame coach. And he's a great person and a loyal friend."
Underwood, as well as many in the K-State community, were saddened when Huggins left. He recalled that his wife was in tears when Huggins got on the plane to depart Manhattan,and that emotion was shared by more than a few in the around the program. Yet, he also took that as a challenge to keep things going when he was retained under Frank Martin.
"I have tried to implement a lot of things from his program," Underwood said of Huggins and what he does.
Balancing that respect, though, is the eagerness to show what his team can do. Under his direction, the Lumberjacks have lost just one conference game over the past two years, and own a win over VCU in NCAA play.
"We're not going to change anything we do," Underwood said of how he would try to offset any familiarity the two coaches have with each other. "Both teams will play hard, and we have to make shots. We know about their offensive rebounding -- they get about 43% of their misses, which is incredible -- so we have to rebound. But we'll keep pressure on, even though we do it more in the halfcourt."
If anything was needed to prove that Underwood took a number of lessons from Huggins, that last should suffice. Huggins often said he knew he had a good team when it could walk into any venue, against any opponent, without fear. The third-year SFA coach has definitely taken that page from his book, and no matter how the game turns out, he won't be playing just to keep it close. When asked if he would like to be in a situation where he was down four or five points in the closing minutes, he quickly interjected.
"I'd like for it to be the reverse. That's the way I approach it."
It wouldn't be hard to imagine the same words coming from Huggins himself.