The 2016-17 college basketball season ended with Bob Huggins owning 813 career victories, 32 NCAA Tournament wins, two Final Four appearances, 11 Division I regular-season conference championships and 10 conference tournament titles. And not even a jingle on the telephone from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
He was not chosen for enshrinement. He was not a finalist. He was not among the 45 candidates put forward by the North American committee.
There is a good reason for this: Huggins never has been nominated for induction. And there’s even a better reason for that: He wasn’t sure it made sense for him because he still is an active coach with no plans to retire.
Now, with Kansas’ Bill Self about to become the sixth active NCAA basketball coach to enter the Naismith Hall of Fame, Huggins would be open to having his name entered in the process should someone wish to nominate him.
Pretty much anyone can nominate a candidate: a fan, an agent, a fellow coach, the administration of his university. In 2015, the Hall was approached by someone involved with basketball in the state of Ohio wishing to nominate Huggins. That was when Huggins initially expressed his belief that induction made more sense post-retirement. The Hall respected his wishes and the process ended there.
However, during West Virginia’s impressive run to the Sweet 16 — and its stirring battle with eventual NCAA runner-up Gonzaga once there — ESPN analyst Dick Vitale tweeted his belief that Huggins “should be in” the Hall of Fame.
Huggins has a powerful case, although none of the other active coaches already inducted got there without an NCAA title. His best chance to win one was shattered in March 2000, when the No. 1-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats began the Conference USA Tournament and just a few minutes into a quarterfinal game against Saint Louis saw Naismith Trophy winner Kenyon Martin go down with a broken leg after an innocuous mid-lane collision. That was the best team Huggins coached, that he ever will coach.
He is one of only 11 Division I coaches with 800 or more career victories. Not now — ever. It’s Krzyzewski, Boeheim, Knight, Smith, Rupp, Calhoun, a few more … and then Huggs. He is one of 16 to take multiple programs to Final Fours, a list that includes Larry Brown, Rick Pitino and Roy Williams. He ranks eighth all-time in NCAA Tournament appearances, tied with Hall of Famer Denny Crum.
Everything Huggins has accomplished was achieved without the might of a blueblood program behind him. Cincinnati had two NCAA championships commemorated on the wall of the Shoemaker Center, but the last of its five Final Four trips occurred 26 years before he arrived. When Huggins took over, the program had endured five losing records in seven seasons.
West Virginia has a significant reach among fans within its state but few elite players growing up within its borders. Local hero Nathan Adrian, from right there in Morgantown, was a three-star recruit according to Rivals.com. He was a reserve for three seasons but continued to develop under Huggins; as a senior, he played 30 minutes per game and was named third-team All-Big 12.
During a lavish ceremony in Sarasota, Fla., on May 12, Huggins will be honored along with Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and ESPN’s Chris Berman at the sold-out Dick Vitale Gala that raises tens of millions annually for the V Foundation.
Vitale’s event does a tremendous job in the battle against pediatric cancer. It is attended each year by dozens of high-profile figures from the connected worlds of media and sports. Huggins is committed to the fight against cancer, having lost his mother, Norma, to the disease in 2003.
In being honored at the Vitale gala, Huggins will join the ranks of Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Kentucky’s John Calipari and Connecticut great Jim Calhoun.
Perhaps soon, sooner than he might have imagined, Huggins will join them in Springfield, as well.