MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Just when you think Bob Huggins has nothing new to offer, he dropped a surprise on me during a conversation.
We all naturally assumed that Huggins’ first coach was his father, Charlie, a Hall of Fame high school coach in Ohio. He, after all, had a willing and eager pupil in his son, who would be destined for greatness of his own in the coaching field.
Charlie Huggins had injected his son with the fundamentals from the time dribbling meant more to him than just saliva coming out of his mouth.
He was the man who planted all the right seeds and who coached him through his early career, except …
We were talking at the time about the Black Lives Matter movement and how Huggins had, a few weeks earlier, listened to a sermon from a black minister who, he said, “gave a great presentation on African-Americans who came to this country and what had happened to them decade by decade.”
Huggins admitted that what the minister said “really got to me.”
And what he was saying was that if the opportunity presents itself to anyone to get to the forefront, you must be ready to take advantage of it.
“What people have to learn is you can’t sit around and wait for other people to take advantage,” Huggins said was the message.
This stuck with Huggins, and he understands that the recent events in our society are presenting another opportunity for minorities to advance their lots in life.
It was then that he added that his first organized coach outside of his father was a black man, Huggins being in middle school and while in seventh grade playing the eighth-grade team.
So it was that it came as no surprise that when it was announced on Monday that John Calipari, the Kentucky coach, is using his connections to put together a group of coaches to partner with the John McLendon Minority Scholarship Foundation to create the MecLendon Minority Leadership Initiative, that Huggins would be involved.
The group will “provide minorities a jump-start to their careers through practical experience, opportunities to build their network, and instilling the values of John McClendon: Integrity, Education, Leadership, Mentorship.”
It is right out of the sermon Huggins had listened to.
Appearing on Calipari’s podcast on Wednesday along with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Gonzaga’s Mark Few, Tennessee’s Rick Barnes, Pitt’s Jeff Capel, Missouri’s Cuonzo Martin and South Carolina’s Frank Martin, Huggins explained his reasoning behind joining this group.
“We didn’t start where we are,” Huggins said. “We started at a lower level and worked our way up, or we were a graduate assistant who was the guy who got the coffee. We understand. Having the experiences of being able to be involved in different areas … ADs were once like we were, you work your way up.
“Just the resume part of it, meeting people and being able to add to their resume is priceless for young people,” Huggins concluded.
Huggins, of course, is the perfect man to be involved in this manner, for he has influenced who knows how many minority lives in 40 years of coaching.
“People always say to me, I spent the last 45 or 50 years of my life around black people, working with black people, working for the black people and having great relationships,” Huggins said during our conversation.
He noted that he had spent much time with some of basketball’s great pioneers from the 1950s and 1960s and heard the challenges they had to overcome.
“What am I going to say? I mean, I listened to Oscar Robertson, Tony Yates and Tom Thurman for a long time when I was at Cincinnati and it’s hard to believe people were that way.”
Now, he has a chance to add to their legacy and help young minority coaches along with their careers, not that it is something new to him. Two of his long-time assistants — Larry Harrison and Erik Martin — fit that profile.
It is another step of Huggins being more visible and vocal in this matter, carrying on where his Tweet after George Floyd died at the hands of police in Minneapolis, leading to national unrest.
Here is what Huggins Tweeted that day:
“Enough! A world that should mean so much to so many right now. No words or speech can adequately explain the pain the Floyd family and others in the country are currently feeling. I will do my part for the family, team and as an American to no long stand for remaining quiet!”
See, Huggins is a man who cares about people … black or white, male or female. It’s why he has been so active charitably, especially raising money for cancer research, and it’s why he’s into this latest project.
“If you live your life right and everyone does that, everything will be all right,” he said.
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