Huggins Exclusive

New West Virginia men's basketball head coach Bob Huggins comments on facility upgrades, the timeframe for the final assistant hire and coexisting for the first time with a football power. That and more in this exclusive interview with

After two months on the recruiting and lecture-and-luncheon circuit of the Mountaineer Athletic Club, Huggins is back in Morgantown piecing together plans for his final assistant hire and the makeup of the Mountaineers this fall. The 1977 WVU graduate has already hired former player Erik Martin (Cincinnati, 1991-93, Final Four, Elite Eight), 35, and 30-year coaching veteran Billy Hahn, 53. That seems to give Huggins two exceptional recruiters and a balance of youth and experience. The final hire, he said, will come from within his framework of coaching.

"I hire guys I know," Huggins said. "Eric played for me. Billy was at Maryland for years, but I know him. There aren't any names, but I'll hire people I know and I'll hire the best guy available, whenever that is."

There were rumors that Huggins might hire former West Virginia player Seldon Jefferson, a 6-3 guard who played under former coach Gale Catlett from 1995-97. Jefferson, a Brooklyn native, would give WVU prep recruiting ties in the area. He currently coaches at the borough's Thomas Jefferson High, but has no connection to Huggins other than both being WVU alumni. The chances of that hire have lessened, while that of current Philadelphia 76ers assistant John Loyer have increased. Loyer has spent seven seasons in the NBA, the last four under former Portland Trailblazers and 76ers head coach Maurice Cheeks. He was a graduate assistant under Huggins for one year at Akron, his alma mater (1988), and an assistant coach for 10 years at Cincinnati.

Huggins did add that, along with the new two-floor study center being placed just outside the athletic director's offices within the Coliseum, West Virginia needs a practice facility. It's the top priority on the list after the projects currently being completed are finished. Huggins did not wish to reveal details, but it's likely that the facility would be outfitted with showers and locker rooms, though moving the coaches' offices out of the Coliseum is a lesser possibility.

"There are things we need done," Huggins said. "We need a practice facility. And I think it can work next to what we have. We can do it here. (WVU AD Ed Pastilong) and I have not gotten (into the plans) yet. But it can work, and work here."

WVU, in addition to the $1.5 million study center, has revamped the weight and locker rooms and added a lounge area within the last three years. Huggins said when hired that he thought the Coliseum was a great facility. But obviously coaches are always striving to gain any edges, and a practice facility would be a major boost, not only in recruiting, but also in avoiding scheduling in-season problems with the women's basketball team and the wrestling, gymnastics and volleyball squads. Gymnastics and wrestling currently have practice facilities, though not nearly of the scope needed by a men's basketball team. All five teams hold matches and games in the Coliseum.

"We have got some major projects on the books, and we will be completing those," Pastilong said. "Those are prioritized. A practice facility is something that is not on the list right now, but that's not to say that down the road it may not be. That would be something that would need to be completed with private funds."

West Virginia has utilized that route in the past, recently for everything from the practice facilities for gymnastics to updates to the soccer field and additions inside the Puskar Center, including the one-year old Donald J. Brohard Hall of Traditions.

Huggins is far more limited within the scope of scholarship numbers. Handcuffed by former coach John Beilein's signing of seven players one season before leaving to coach Michigan, Huggins has just two scholarships this year, both having now been used. He has already signed Will Thomas, a 6-5, 200 pound guard from East Cleveland, Ohio, and is honoring the scholarship offered by Beilein to John Flowers (6-7 forward, Waldorf, Md.), who said he would still attend WVU after inking in the November early signing period. Rising seniors Darris Nichols and Jamie Smalligan will use their last seasons of eligibility this year, meaning Huggins, barring any attrition, will have just two scholarships next year as well.

"I have just got to recruit the best player I can, in whatever numbers," said Huggins, who added that every team he coached that had a chance to win a national championship had "at least three" NBA-caliber players on it. Hahn has said that he thinks teams need four to win the title, referencing the runs of Florida and North Carolina over the past three years. Both coaches agreed that WVU can recruit to that level.

Huggins also noted that he wasn't sure exactly how different the setups were for his style of player and that of Beilein, though Huggins is a man-to-man-only coach with an NBA offense that often runs, and Beilein was a set offensive mentor who played mainly zone.

"I have been doing this for 26 years, and all my other teams played man and played fast, so I assume these guys can do it as well," Huggins said. "We do have to get stronger. Other than that, I can't do much with them right now. I can't work with them until school starts."

Huggins said he does plan on using Smalligan, a gifted outside shooter, to pull opposing centers from the basket while also sticking the seven-footer inside and demanding physical play from him.

"I think we can do both. Good players adjust," Huggins said. "When we had guys that could shoot, we spread it out. When we didn't, we had to do other things. It's a pretty simple setup."

Another concern of late is the stretching of West Virginia's athletic budget. As the university continues to demand full tuition payment and denies the athletic department waivers as the state raises costs five percent or more per year, the percentage of the budget allotted to that aspect continues to grow. Add to that the increased costs of coaching and facilities and that the two major revenue sports are experiencing simultaneous successes never before seen, and it begs the question: Will football and men's basketball clash monetarily, with both demanding upgrades in everything from salaries to facilities, especially on a $37-40 million budget, approximately half of that of men's basketball and football defending national champion Florida?

"Why would we ever clash?" Huggins said. "I was at Cincinnati for 16 years, and we supported almost the entire athletic budget, so it's somewhat refreshing to be at a place where someone else can make the money. That's my job, to make it exciting so fans want to come. They are selling out games at Kansas State. It's 6,000 seats, but they sell out. They are selling floor seats, and doing it at a pretty good rate. I loved it at Kansas State (with a similar setup). We have great fan support here, and I anticipate it being the same."

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