K-State Game More Than a Reunion For Huggins - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

K-State Game More Than a Reunion For Huggins


When Bob Huggins returned to Cincinnati to play against the team he coached for 16 years, the atmosphere was special.

Fans who hated to see him go showed just how much he meant to them with a roaring applause after an emotional video highlighting the good times he had with the Bearcats.

Then the Bearcats proceeded to break his heart even more by coming away with a four-point win.

The players wanted a win for Huggins so badly that night and felt terrible that they couldn't deliver when they knew how much it would have meant for him. Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant were freshmen back then, now the senior leaders for Huggins, and they're once again trying to deliver their coach a win over his former team.

"That's definitely something we're looking forward to, I'm looking forward to," Bryant says about facing Kansas State. "We want to go there, get him a win and really just get a win for the team."

There are differences between that situation back in 2009 and what WVU faces in Wichita, most notably the fact that one year at Kansas State cannot begin to compare to the 16 he had at Cincinnati, regardless of what kind of reverence the fan base had for Huggins.

"Going back to Cincinnati was going back to the Shumaker Center, going back to the city of Cincinnati," says Huggins. "This is in Wichita. It's 130 miles from Manhattan. It's not playing at Bramlage. I don't think it's anything like that."

When you start talking details, of course it's nothing like the return to Cincinnati, but that isn't stopping the players from viewing this one a little differently. They know it will still have a special meaning for Huggins and even if by some chance they forgot, he continues to remind them.

He doesn't do it with words, but his actions speak volumes.

"When we played Cincinnati… he would always be more fired up and everything," says junior forward Deniz Kilicli. "So if you have a three-day preparation time, we would just go so hard because he would make us go really hard, he would be really nervous and everything, so it's the same way right now."

Nervous is probably not the word Huggins would use, nor would he be thrilled to know his players were using it to describe his mood in the days since returning from Mississippi State. He understands what's on the line in a game like this.

It has nothing to do with taking on a former assistant in Frank Martin and nothing to do with the chills he'd get if the fans started doing that Wabash Cannonball they're known for. It has everything to do with developing a tournament resume, and a win over the Wildcats would certainly help in that regard.

"It's a game against a team that's going to be an NCAA tournament team and it's national television," says Huggins. "[We're] playing in a new arena that's going to host NCAA tournament games. It's kind of what you want."

Part of the reason for KSU's endearment toward Huggins is because of his role in turning the program into one that can safely predict an NCAA tournament berth with some regularity.

Before Huggins came to Manhattan for the 2006-07 season and led the Wildcats to a 22-11 record overall and a 10-6 conference showing. Prior to that season, Kansas State hadn't finished above .500 in the Big 12 since it became a conference in the 1996-97 season.

He got them to the brink of an NCAA tournament berth, one that many felt the Wildcats were deserving of, but ultimately settled for an NIT appearance instead the same year that West Virginia won that championship.

In the years since, Kansas State has not finished below .500 in the conference and has made the NCAA tournament three of the four seasons after a drought that dated back to the 1995-96 campaign.

Huggins helped set the tone for Kansas State basketball. Now he heads to Wichita to play his old team with the hopes of setting a positive tone for the Mountaineers' season.

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