Saturday, March 23, 2002

DAUGHERTY: Who wants to follow Huggins?



By Paul Daugherty, pdaugherty@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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        LEXINGTON — If and when Bob Huggins leaves UC, someone is going to learn a hard truth. It's the same truth UC president Joe Steger will absorb about UC basketball:

        Bob Huggins is UC basketball.

        Players don't come to UC for the league or the education or the cheese coneys. They come for Huggins. By force of work and will, Huggins has made UC a national power. The Bearcats are always good, which is remarkable. UC isn't Duke. It doesn't have Michigan's resources or Kentucky's tradition. UC is better than it should be because Huggins works there.

        As of the instant this is being typed, Huggins is UC's coach. An Internet report has him gone to West Virginia University, but it has been denied. Believe what you want.

        Time to impress

        That said, this is the best time for identifying star power. A coach can win a job in March. One good game, when everyone's watching, and he goes from the vast middle of college basketball to the “silk suitahs” of Pete Gillen's daydreams.

        Thad Matta did it. One season at Butler, one win over Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and his ticket to Xavier was punched. For mid- major coaches, March is one long audition. It's odd, then, that this year's hot, young coach barely knows he's warm.

        “Oh, man,” Stan Heath said. “Me? I don't know. Good question.”

        The question was, “If Bob Huggins leaves Cincinnati, would you be surprised if they wanted to talk to you?”

        “That's up in the air,” Heath said. “Bob Huggins is the coach.”

        Heath, 37, works for Kent State. The Golden Flashes are one win from the Final Four. They've won 21 straight games and 26 of 27. When the Flashes were 4-4 and moping, Heath stitched together tapes of Duke, and of Michigan State, where he'd been an assistant the previous three years. They showed the Dookies cheering each other from the bench and the Spartans, relentlessly pounding people close to the basket.

        “Our attitude needed changing,” Heath said. “If we could bring back the enthusiasm, we would play better.”

        Big step up

        Heath fits UC's likely profile of Huggins' replacement: young, successful coach from a smaller school. Someone who wouldn't tower over UC, as Huggins has. Someone who would come cheaper.

        Heath replaced Gary Waters, who parlayed three 20-win seasons and a first-round upset of Indiana last March into the Rutgers job. Heath is winning with four senior starters, all Waters' guys. Could he recruit enough good players to keep UC a Top 25 resident?

        Would he want to follow Huggins? Would anyone? Better to follow the guy who follows Huggins. The cliff won't be as high.

        Heath's riding a wave now. It'll get only bigger if Kent State wins today. Every athletic director in America will have Heath's number on speed-dial.

        “The corporate raid is on,” KSU athletic director Laing Kennedy said Friday.

        Said Heath: “There's a stage right now. Is it a stage to bigger things? To me, Kent State is a big thing.”

        Not as big as others, though. Heath will find that out soon enough.

       



Bearcats Stories
- DAUGHERTY: Who wants to follow Huggins?
SULLIVAN: Huggins' 2 choices: Go home, stay home
Huggins denies deal finalized with W. Virginia
Bearcats DB pleads guilty in Pa. brawl

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