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Huggins ready for his next challenge

THERE ARE very few paths over which West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins hasn't walked.

Today, in a 7 p.m. exhibition game against Northern Kentucky, which now has ex-Mountaineer Darris Nichols as an assistant, Huggins will unveil his latest team.

It's a team with low expectations playing within the rugged Big East for perhaps the last season. Fans will undoubtedly be excited to check out fine recruiting land Jabarie Hinds and the rest of the newcomers.

"We're fine," Huggins said Thursday. "When we start going up and down [the court], we go a little crazy. But as long as we're in a controlled situation, we're OK."

Understandably, WVU isn't receiving much love entering the season. Sturdy Kevin Jones returns, as well as Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli, but the Mountaineers aren't receiving the attention of conference peers like Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Marquette.

Yet Huggins and his teams have been there before. And in regard to WVU's impending move to the Big 12? Well, Huggins and his teams have been there before as well. Before moving to Morgantown, the coach steered Kansas State.

"Great league, great all-sports league," Huggins said. "There's really good football, men's and women's basketball, baseball ... it's a good all-sports conference."

The coach spoke about his tour of the Big 12.

"Those schools are a lot like West Virginia," Huggins said. "Their fan base is a lot like [that of] West Virginia. Go to Lawrence, Manhattan, Stillwater ... they will all be sold out, and they're really, really into basketball."

Huggins has pointed out that a big difference between leagues is those within the Big 12 play in their own arenas. That isn't always the case within the Big East. But sometimes, like playing at Madison Square Garden, it can be a plus.

Huggins and his assistants have capitalized on that plus in the past by hitting New York's fertile recruiting ground hard. One question amid many concerning the move to the Big 12 is how WVU's Big Apple connection will be affected.

"I don't know," Huggins said. "We'll have to see. Kansas gets into New Jersey and recruits. We went into Chicago and got Jake Pullen when I was at K-State."

Huggins doesn't wish to publicly delve into the move from the Big East.

"It was time to get out," he said. "But I don't want to get into that with the lawsuit [pending]."

(A note in regard to that: The West Virginia attorney general's office has been added to the school's filed lawsuit as counsel.)

But if anyone within the Mountaineer athletic department knows the Big 12, it's Huggins. Kansas State gave him an opportunity after his falling out with Cincinnati.

During the 2006-07 season, Huggins led the Wildcats to 23 wins, their most in 19 years, and built the base for excitement in Manhattan before moving to the Mountain State.

The style of play within the Big 12?

"It's like in every league," Huggins said. "You have contrasting styles. Some play slower, some play faster. Some play zone 90 percent of the time, some play man-to-man 100 percent of the time.

"Obviously, though, there aren't as many contrasting styles because you have six less teams [than the Big East]. Other than that, it's about the same."

Huggins said if the rumors of extending the runway at Morgantown's airport come true, travel shouldn't be a problem.

"It takes about the same time to travel to Manhattan, Kansas, as Manhattan, New York, if you consider the travel after you get off the plane at LaGuardia, etc.,'' he said. "It might, though, affect our fan base."

Whatever the case, Huggins will survive and, more than likely, thrive with the new challenges.

He has before. He will again.

Beginning with one this evening.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

 


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