Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Final Four: Rooting for West Virginia

Tonight is the Final Four in Indianapolis, with Butler (5) vs. Michigan State (5) as the early match-up and West Virginia (2) vs. Duke (1) as the nightcap.

I love the story of Butler's coach, Brad Stevens. The guy is only 33 and was initially working at Eli Lilly before volunteering to be an assistant coach at Butler - this is someone who truly pursued his passion. Of all the big name coaches, Tom Izzo has always been just about my favorite, but tonight I hope that Butler will pull it off.

I'm particularly rooting for West Virginia this evening -- ever since the Kevin Pittsnoggle run in 2005, I've been a fan. Adding to my enthusiasm, Jason Zengerle (who I've not previously heard of) had a brilliant article on The New Republic's site a couple days ago ("In Defense of Huggy Bear," here) in which he extols the virtues of Bob Huggins. I've always though Huggins represented what was worst about college hoops (I remember first thinking this when watching the '92 Final Four at Dartmouth, in which Cincinnati played), but Zengerle turns my perception on its head to argue that he's a super-hard working guy who has returned to his alma mater and who makes no apologies for putting winning above all. AND, unlike Coach K, he doesn't self-righteously promote his "leader of men" abilities:

Huggins is a surprisingly refreshing figure in the world of big-time college basketball, which is currently filled with coaches who are constantly pretending to be so much more than just coaches. Krzyzewski, of course, is the most egregious example of this—with his whole “leader of men” schtick that, in addition to his lucrative endorsement career, has led to the creation of an actual Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics at Duke’s business school. Butpretty much every successful college coach these days now considers himself a guru who has valuable lessons to impart about not just how to beat a 2-3 zone but how to have a successful business and successful life ...

Huggins is a coach with absolutely no pretenses. His father was a high school coach in Ohio and after Huggins finished playing college basketball at West Virginia—where he was a two-time Academic All-American and from which he graduated magna cum laude—he went into the coaching business himself, taking a job at tiny Walsh College. Being a coach was all he ever wanted to be. And, even now, three decades later and at the top of his profession—when sanding off his rough edges could bring him lucrative endorsement deals and greater acclaim—that remains the case. The 13 books Huggins has written have titles like Building a Man-to-Man Defense and Motion Offense: The Principles of the Five Man Open Post. If he ever held a telethon, it would probably be to raise money to pay for his players’ bail—unless he embezzled the proceeds to buy himself more sweatsuits first.

I loved this article; I know part of it is just my deep antipathy for Duke, but I also like the way that Zengerle makes Huggins human -- and admirable in his own way.

This year's tournament included a particularly fun Survivor pool by Billy: Tuck and I joined our picks for last Saturday's games and sadly lost-out on two upsets in the same day (Kansas State losing to Butler and Kentucky falling to West Virginia): we'd almost gone with Butler but couldn't quite summon the guts for it. It remains a rite of March to work on figuring out just-the-right Survivor strategy!!

1 comment:

  1. Watching the WVU vs. Duke game right now as I read this. Love this article. Makes me like Huggins better too. Thank you for sharing. I've never liked Huggins either. Does Pittsnogle, I mean Zengerle, discuss the merits/considerations of Huggins 4 DUIs and that affect on his endorsement potential? :)