Archive for Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Commentary: Huggins not to be underestimated

February 7, 2007


I gave a hushed chuckle at Bob Huggins' debut press conference when he talked about winning.


"You know what John F. Kennedy said when they asked him to run for vice president because he was young, aristocratic and Catholic? He said, 'Why settle for second when first is available.' We've never played for second; we've always played for first. As long as I continue to be in this profession, we are going to play for first."

My immediate thought was, "Hey, great line, but maybe a year or so early, skipper."

Mr. Huggins, my apologies.

Never was it a mind-crosser that this year's team would be in contention for the Big 12 title.

To be honest, most games of hoop and ball pretty much blend together. But Saturday's 73-72 victory in Austin was one for the all-time Top 20 enjoyment chart, not to mention potentially meaningful for this K-State program that has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1996.

It was a pleasure to watch the elegance of Texas' Kevin Durant at one end of the floor, and K-State's precision non-dribble, zone-busting ball rotation at the other end. Each KSU possession seemed to end with a three-point exclamation point - Cartier Martin seven times, Lance Harris five and Clent Stewart two.

Had it been 13 treys instead of 14, K-State would have lost; had Jason Bennett not netted a rare 8-foot jumper, K-State would have lost; had Akeem Wright not been so nasty defensively, K-State would have lost.

Never will it be said in this space that Jim Wooldridge, and Tom Asbury before him, were bad basketball coaches. Their teams, while not ultra-talented, played hard.

Today's difference is the Huggins factor: Playing hard is a notch less than playing with passion; playing to win is a smidgen under competing with an absolute hatred of defeat.

It's Huggins' "will" at work.

If 37 free throws are needed to defeat Missouri, if holding Baylor to 35 percent shooting is needed, if holding Iowa State to 16 first-half points and Nebraska to 20 are needed, if making 14 treys is needed to defeat Texas, Kansas State has found a way.

Former Wildcat coach Jack Hartman would love the tenacity with which this team plays at the defensive end, plus doing what it can on offense within a team concept.

Huggins is a master psychologist whether it be with the K-State student body, or convincing Cartier Martin - one of just five players in K-State history to score at least 1,000 points and collect 400 rebounds - of his value in coming off the bench in his senior season.

And don't forget this: K-State lost games by 30 and 24 points to ordinary New Mexico and Cal teams early in the season; K-State was 0-2 in the Big 12 on Jan. 8 after a 10-point home-court loss to Texas Tech. That loss came at a point when K-State had just been re-tooled to feature the talents of Bill Walker, only to lose him to a season-ending knee injury.

Each and every time, Huggins duct-taped things together.

After Saturday's NCAA signature win, Huggins was, as always, looking like he had just lost his dog. Without a trace of a smile, deep in thought about the next task.

Like it was with former Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder, it is as difficult to define the amount of enjoyment Huggins is taking from this current streak as it is to crack his defense.

Both men play the game to win. When you do, why act surprised? It's what you worked so hard for.


Bobo Fleming 8 years, 9 months ago

I'm a 60 year KU fan. But its fun to watch a well coached college team like KState with no NBA prospects just play it he way the coach wants them to play with intensity and enjoyment. KU to me seems to have a lot of guys now that play like they think "this is just another game. Another in a long line of games for a lot of teams I have played for on the way to my NBA shot. " By the way, I get the same feeling about Self. Just another in a long line of teams I will be coaching.

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