Huggins glad to return home to West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Score one for West Virginia.

Mountaineers basketball will look a lot different under new coach Bob Huggins, with faster-paced action, more slam dunks and -- he hopes -- a higher tally on the scoreboard.

"I like to play faster. I like to score," Huggins told the Coliseum crowd of several hundred.

"You have to guard and you have to do all those things, but you have to score. I like to watch us score. I like to see the ball go in," Huggins said, drawing laughter and applause. "To me, it's a better game."

That means better days for the Mountaineers.

"I want to stay here as long as I can do what I'm supposed to do and as long as you people will have me," said Huggins, who's returning 30 years after he played his last game as a Mountaineer.

"Thanks for letting me come home."

Huggins was hired just two days after John Beilein ended a successful five-year run to take the Michigan job. That opened the door for Morgantown-born Huggins to come home to what he's long told people was his dream job.

The 53-year-old Huggins has plenty of history with the Mountaineers. A former captain and two-time academic All-American during his 1975-77 playing days, Huggins spent the first year of his coaching career here as a graduate assistant.

Now, it's his show.

Gone will be Beilein's unique system of a 3-point shooting gallery and a 1-3-1 zone defense. But Huggins said he expects the current team, which has only one vacant spot on its roster, to adapt.

"I think we can probably ask them to do pretty much anything, and they can go out and do it," he said.

One thing the team is sure to do is give Huggins his 600th career victory -- he's just 10 wins shy.

The five-year contract guarantees Huggins $800,000 the first year, matching his Kansas State salary. He'll earn about $5 million, plus incentives, over the five years, said athletic director Ed Pastilong.

Huggins had five years remaining on his contract at Kansas State and must pay the school $100,000 for breaking his contract early.

"Thanks for letting me come home."
-- Bob Huggins

Negotiations with West Virginia didn't take long, and Huggins joked that Pastilong refused to lend him reading glasses to study the fine print: "Eddie said, 'It'll be fine, sign here.' "

Dave Minor, a 56-year-old fan from Shinnston, said Huggins should stay as long as he remains competitive and enthusiastic.

"If you think you can stay here just because you are from here, it's not going to work," he said.

Although he's established himself as one of the top college basketball coaches in the nation over the past quarter-century, Huggins is no stranger to controversy.

He spent 16 seasons at Cincinnati, leading the Bearcats to 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments and one Final Four. But critics targeted his program for low graduation rates, a series of player arrests and NCAA rules violations that ultimately led to probation and a reduction in scholarships.

Huggins argued the criticism over graduation rates was unfair, but he noted the NCAA now does a better job of calculating those rates.

"I think people forget the fact that I graduated magna cum laude," he said. "If I didn't care about academics I wouldn't have had a 3.97. I came from a family of seven kids, and they're all professionals."

Huggins has also had health issues. He suffered a massive heart attack on the recruiting trail on Sept. 28, 2002.

"Don't I look good? What's wrong with the way I look?" he joked when asked about his current condition. "I'm doing fine. You know, I'm like most of us. I could stand to lose a couple pounds. But you know, I'm doing great."

A DUI arrest in 2004 ultimately led to his dismissal from Cincinnati following the 2004-05 season. He sat out the 2005-06 season but returned to the sidelines after Kansas State hired him March 23, 2006.

He led the Wildcats to a 23-12 record and a NIT berth in his only season at the school and signed what is thought by many to be the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation.

Now, Huggins, West Virginia and Kansas State must sit and wait to see what the recruits will do.