Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Will NBA be next suitor for Huggins?

        Maybe the worst is over now. Maybe when Bob Huggins said no to West Virginia, he was hunkering down for the long haul. Maybe the relocation rumors that annually swirl around the University of Cincinnati's basketball coach will dissipate and then disappear. Or maybe this is just a little lull between crises, a brief respite before the Denver Nuggets stake a claim to UC's gritty golden boy.

        If Bob Huggins can't be convinced to rescue his alma mater from hoops oblivion, then it's likely he has taken his last college coaching job. The NBA is another story, however, one whose ending may not be so happy for Bearcats fans.

        “I'm not worried about us losing him to another university once we got past this,” UC athletic director Bob Goin said Tuesday afternoon. “I think our only competition is a pro team.”

        In a month, when the NBA's regular season is complete and its coaching carousel commences, Huggins is bound to be at the center of someone's search.

He's still here — for now

        Speculation starts with Denver because Huggins' agent, Bret Adams, is a business partner of Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke. But Huggins also could be a candidate for the Golden State, Memphis and/or Phoenix jobs. Though Monday's announcement afforded UC fans considerable relief, it's still even money whether Huggins coaches another game at UC.

        This is what happens when you win consistently at the college level: You make yourself appealing to men who can pay more. Though the recent record of crossover coaches is uninspired, Huggins believes the failures of Rick Pitino, John Calipari, et. al., were attributable to bad circumstances rather than bad coaching.

        This is why Huggins passed up a lucrative chance to coach the Los Angeles Clippers and why he remains susceptible to the siren call of the 24-second clock. Down deep, Huggins believes he can win in the pros. Down deep, he has to wonder if he ever will have a better shot at an NCAA championship than he had with Kenyon Martin.

His histrionics sell

        Huggins is one of the few college coaches whose profile is sufficiently high to sell tickets in the pros. Some fans would show up to see how Huggins' hypercritical sideline act would play with pampered pros.

        Yet after watching 13 years of Huggins' histrionics, the suspicion lingers that his meltdowns are mostly premeditated; that they are intended for effect rather than to reveal his essence. Get Huggins away from a basketball court, and he speaks so softly you can hardly hear him.

        “Some people have the perception that Bob couldn't adjust (to the NBA), and that's not giving him enough credit intellectually,” Adams said. “He knows he would have to handle 10-year veterans differently than a freshman coming into UC.”

        Had he taken the West Virginia job, Huggins could not in good conscience have moved to the NBA for several seasons. Presumably, he could leave UC on shorter notice with less guilt. Certainly, this is a concern in Cincinnati.

        “If he goes pro,” Bob Goin said Tuesday, “then I'm going, too.”

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