On The Trail

Very little of what Bob Huggins and his West Virginia University basketball staff does in Morgantown goes unnoticed.

If construction begins on a new scoreboard, there are media members and fans at the Coliseum to document the venture. If a blue-chip recruit is on campus for a visit, the word will get around to every corner of the Mountain State by the time that hoops star makes it from the downtown campus over to the Evansdale campus, and if Huggins sits down for a steak at Texas Roadhouse, somebody will be logging onto the BlueGoldNews.com message boards to report on whether the sirloin was medium or medium-well before the coach even gets through his dessert.

All eyes will certainly be focused on the Mountaineers' second-year head coach over the next three days when the annual Triple S Harley Davidson Jam Fest brings some of the country's top high school talent to Morgantown. The event, run by the Hoop Group, will run from July 14-16, and you can bet there will be plenty of people writing down the team name and jersey number of every player with whom Huggins exchanges pleasantries.

There is no question that bringing these big-name recruits to Northern West Virginia is a huge advantage for Huggins and his staff, but the Jam Fest is just one of many stops on a July tour of AAU tournaments around the country. Huggins and assistant Larry Harrison have already visited Akron, Ohio, for the LeBron Skllls Academy and Cincinnati for the Take 5ive Classic. Assistant Erik Martin was in Tulsa, Okla., earlier this month for a junior college event, and Billy Hahn and Harrsion spent time together in Philadelphia for the Reebok U Camp.

This week, Huggs and Harrison have been dealt a two-for-one special, as they have been able to take in both the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C., and the Peach State Summer-Showcase less than 15 miles away in Aiken, S.C. The latter event began this past Friday and ended with the championship rounds on Sunday. It featured Adidas, Reebok and independently sponsored teams, including the Birmingham Ice, the Alabama Terriors, the Carolina Celtics and Metro Elite, just to name a few of the 32 17-and-under squads in the field.

The Nike Peach Jam began Saturday and will run through Tuesday when the New York Gauchos, which won the 17-and-under title with WVU commit Darryl "Truck" Bryant helping lead the way last year, try to win another crown. The Peach Jam features 24 elite 17-and-under travel teams, including Athletes First, Houston Hoops, Louisiana Select, Team Melo and The Family along with the defending champs. It also includes a 16-and-under division, where 16 other teams are trying to give their players and opportunity to show off for the best coaches.

The courtside seats at both venues and the overhead tracks at the Riverview Park Activities Center, the site of the Peach Jam, have been lined with some of the most famous faces in college basketball all week — Roy Williams, Tubby Smith, Billy Donovan, Bill Self and John Beilein are just a handful of the top X and O men who have been on hand — as well as hundreds of lesser-known coaches just trying to keep up with their competition. With so many scouts on hand, it's not as if a coach is going to steal away a player that nobody else notices. And in today's technological era, coaches could certainly get videos of these players without having to battle the sweltering Carolina summer heat.

So why do so many coaches come through the gates like cows into a milking parlor?

"I think these events are really good because (the players) play with their teams," said Huggins Saturday, while taking in the Peach State Summer-Showcase at the University of South Carolina-Aiken's brand new Convocation Center. "There is more organization. It is not like watching all-star games or going to a camp where they are not familiar with their teammates. You can get a better idea of how they fit into a team and what they contribute to team play."

It also helps a coach just to show his face. Stay behind for one event, and coaches can be sure that their competitors will be pointing that fact out to every prospect in an effort to prove that coach A wants the athlete's services a little more than coach B.

But once a coach picks out a prospect, shows him some love and lets him know he would like to have him on his team, how does that coach real in the fish while so many other coaches are tossing out all the newest bait to try to get a bite of their own? Huggins, who has developed a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the country and consistently brings in top 10 classes, believes that the formula for success in recruiting is one that even the top calculus scholars would have a difficult time solving.

"I think relationships are important," said Huggins. "But there are a lot of things that go into it. It is who you know and how hard you work. Working hard is a big part of it, and you have to have great assistants. I have been very blessed with great assistants."

Whatever the secret, Huggins has figured it out, and by all indications this July tour or arenas and recreation centers should yield more positive results.

"It is going well," said Huggins with a big smile. "We would like to have it all done, but we don't. So we are just going to have to keep working at it."

Judging by the glow in his eye as he watched the action on the court, that isn't something that is going to cause the basketball junkie to lose any sleep.

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