WVU’s Bob Huggins offers heartfelt get-well sentiment for Kansas coach Bill Self following Thursday’s KU victory

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, left, and Kansas head coach Bill Self have a laugh before tipoff of an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Nick Krug)

Kansas City, Mo. — There’s never really a right time to hear that someone — anyone — has been admitted to the hospital for a potentially scary situation that could affect their longterm health.

But for those of us in the storytelling business, Thursday was, in a way, the right day for that news to hit the Kansas basketball beat.

The day started with news of KU coach Bill Self being at the University of Kansas hospital and ended with word that Self was doing well and would be OK but that he was done coaching for the week.

That’s about as good of an outcome as you could’ve asked for from that situation. But it was made a little better when you realized that the very team that Self’s Jayhawks were to face on Thursday was coached by Self’s longtime friend Bob Huggins.

The connection between the two men is significant and real. They’re friends, away from the court and outside of competition. And they probably would be if they were both mechanics or chemical engineers or if one was a world-class pianist and the other sold minnows for a living.

The two guys just click. And they get each other in ways beyond coaching.

KU beat West Virginia for the third time this season, winning Thursday’s game by the convincing score of 78-61 to move into Friday’s semifinals. From a distance, and through acting head coach Norm Roberts, Self made it clear that he was darn proud of how his team played and handled a scary situation.

Later in the evening, Huggins, up close and personal, made it clear that, he, too, was proud of Self for listening to his body and not brushing off something potentially devastating because of foolish pride of competitive toughness. Twenty years ago, while he was the head coach at Cincinnati Huggins collapsed at a Pittsburgh airport and woke up in the hospital, where doctors told him he’d suffered a massive heart attack. Huggins had a device implanted to help normalize his heartbeat, and he was told to make some lifestyle changes.

“I’ve been through those things and it’s not any fun, you know,” Huggins said Thursday. “I think it would be really hard for Bill this time of year because of him trying to make another run for a national championship, and him being in the state that he’s in now, I would think that would be very difficult. He’s a great competitor, tremendous competitor.”

It remains to be seen if Self can or will return for his team’s run through the NCAA Tournament, which almost certainly will start next Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa, with his Jayhawks as a No. 1 seed in one of the four regions.

But beyond any of the competitive issues in play, Huggins wants, more than anything, for his friend to take care of himself and to get well soon, as they say.

“I’m not a very good listener,” Huggins said. “They told me come up here and be honest. I’m being honest. I’m not a very good listener. There are times when you really don’t have any choice, and I went through that. I had no choice. I was in the hospital with a whole bunch of tubes and somebody coming in every — seemed like every — 15 minutes and sticking me with something. I want Bill to get well, you know. I want to say as soon as he can, but, really, I think what I need to say or mean to say is that I want him to come out of there the way he’s always been. If that makes sense.”

As for the basketball elements of Thursday’s action, Huggins said he was thoroughly impressed by the way the Kansas coaching staff and players put their best foot forward even with Self not in the building.

“I don’t think they did anything different,” Huggins said. “Bill’s one of the great coaches really of all time. When you stop and think about it, he’s a hall of fame guy for a reason, and he’s won countless games at Kansas there. They’ve been at the top of the ladder year after year after year after year. So, you know, and he’s got Joe (Dooley) on the bench. Joe was a head coach himself. Norm (Roberts) was a head coach. There’s probably a few more down there I can’t think of right now. But he’s got a great staff. He’s got a great staff. He does a great job. I think they’re good guys. They’re good guys to be around. I know I’ve got a great relationship with the whole staff.”

After the game, Roberts mentioned his past connections to and familiarity with Huggins, when they were both coaching in the Big East, not to mention the years they’ve faced off in the Big 12.

Roberts didn’t mention Huggins’ feelings about Self, but he illustrated clearly one of the elements that he, Huggins and countless others have always admired about the KU coach.

“Coach has talked to us about being focused on the things that we can control and that’s what we tried to do as a staff,” Roberts said. “It is different (than it was while coaching in November when Self was serving a suspension), without a doubt. But what we try to do with our guys is take one moment at a time, one play at a time. Our guys, they’re mature. And they knew that, hey, this is a time that we need to bond together.”

His message to the players about their head coach before the game was also classic Self stuff.

“He’s looking out,” Roberts told them. “He’s watching you and he’s going to jump your tail when he’s back.”

Count Huggins among the many, many people hoping for that to be sooner rather than later.


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