Sunday at 5:15 the Mountaineers play in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament against old rival Syracuse. Most people, for obvious reasons, will be focusing on the duel between Boeheim (the son) and McBride, and rightly so. However, there’s another duel I find even more intriguing. Let me explain why.
Back in the ’70s before the Eastern Sports Programming Network (ESPN) was launched, the only way to see the Mountaineers play was through the radio. I used to lay on the floor in my parent’s house in Speed, WV with my ear pressed to my radio/record player where I hoped to a few words through the static as Jack Fleming and Woody O’Hara described the game action. As I recall, according to Jack, our players were constantly being mugged.
While in college at Fairmont, ESPN came along and all of a sudden we could see an occasional game on TV, but more importantly we could see the NCAA Tournament played. My first memory of Jim Boeheim was as the coach of Syracuse who reminded me of Dennis the Menace’s father. He looked more like a dentist (from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) than he did a basketball coach. I remember thinking, because of his winning ways, “I wish we had a coach like that.”
In 1978 I thought we got that coach in Gale Catlett. I loved Gale as a coach. He brought WVU back to national prominence, just as he had done for Cincinnati from ’75 to ’78, but he never made it past the Sweet 16 as the Mountaineer coach, so he couldn’t quite take us far enough to measure up to what Boeheim had done for his alma mater. Still, the Catlett years were good for Mountaineer fans.
My first memory of Bob Huggins was first as a player that I only saw play on the radio. I next recall him being at Walsh College and when his team went 34-1 in ’82-’83, it was then I hoped he would one day coach the Mountaineers. 25 years later, after a very successful run at Cincinnati, just like Catlett, he came home. We had our coach who could take us past the Sweet 16! We had a coach that could match Boeheim.
Boeheim was born 57 miles west of Syracuse. Huggins was born in Morgantown! Boeheim played for Syracuse. Huggins played for West Virginia! Boeheim has won 981 games, minus 101 wins for cheating, bringing the total down to 880. Huggins has won 900 games and did so without cheating! Boeheim has a winning percentage of .707 including cheating. Huggins has a winning percentage of .702 without cheating!
The big difference between the two is that Boeheim has won a national championship and that is the one title Huggins is still after. So during the game Sunday, while Boeheim (the son) and McBride are battling it out on the court, I’ll be rooting for Huggins to take down Boeheim on his way to bringing home that one allusive honor – to be called a national championship-winning coach.