Big moments remain indelible

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Over a lifetime of watching college hoops, the truly indelible scenes include Al McGuire and Jerry Tarkanian winning championships. Being in the Boise barn to see Tyus Edney beat the clock, and witnessing indomitable teammate Ed O’Bannon will UCLA to the national title, make 1994-95 memorable.

Having viewed Indiana obliterating the Bruins in Albuquerque in 1992, for a spot in the Final Four still elicits a shiver. Reduced to 40 1-minute games, the Hoosiers would have won, 40-0.

Ninety minutes later, Christian Laettner zapped Kentucky with that turnaround jumper. I had viewed it, in a cold press room in The Pit, with six or eight colleagues around the one with the gray Watchman, Laettner the size of a fingernail.

And how did Gordon Hayward’s gorgeous rainbow not go in against Duke in the 2010 finale? Atop all of those vignettes, though, is a snapshot from the national semifinal that put the Blue Devils into that title game.

Bob Huggins. Da’Sean Butler. April 3, 2010. Indianapolis.

I had been watching with a pal at TGI Friday’s on Sahara. Butler, West Virginia’s star, had collided with Brian Zoubek and fell with a knee injury. All sound muted, save for the player’s screams and cries.

Everything outside the prism of Huggins, the Mountaineers coach, cradling Butler’s noggin became skewed and vague. People must have kept talking inside that restaurant. My pal probably yapped. I heard nothing.

My tunnel vision contained only the sight of Huggins treating Butler as if he were his own flesh and blood. Both had glassy eyes. For failing to deliver the coach’s first NCAA title, Butler apologized to Huggins.

“I was really genuine about it,” Butler said later. “I apologized because I wasn’t playing that well and I wanted to let him know I really wanted to get him his first championship.

“All he said was, ‘Don’t worry about it’ and ‘I love you’ and ‘You’re a special kid’ and ‘Don’t let this stop you from doing what you’re doing.’ ”

West Virginia (at 30-1) is one of my half-dozen futures tickets to win it all this season. With Baylor, Texas and Wisconsin, the Mountaineers sport a KenPom top-10 defense and top-20 offense.

Huggins, 67, is in his 39th season as a head coach, the 14th since he took over where he was born, in Morgantown, W.V. His first trip to the Final Four came with Cincinnati in 1992, a semifinal loss to Michigan.

A native of Newark, N.J., Butler was West Virginia’s leading scorer. The heart of the squad, whose selflessness and engaging personality was exhibited before the Mountaineers left for Indiana.

A West Virginia supporter had suffered a heart attack, and during his convalescence Butler visited him in the hospital to boost his spirits. As a patient, Butler would soon make his own hospital trip. He had torn a ligament and sprained another one. That a coach could so obviously mean so much to a player, and vice versa, still resonates as something profound.

Just as profound as a coach with such a big heart actually possessing such a frail vital organ. In 2002, Huggins suffered a massive heart attack. He told a reporter he died three times that day.

“But are you going to be afraid to live your life? I’m not going to live like that. You do what you’re passionate about,” he said.

Butler currently plays in Israel. And in September, the player with 107 basketball victories, more than any other Mountaineer, was inducted into the university’s sports hall of fame.

I close my eyes and still see Huggins tending to Butler. He’d note how Huggins had been such a calming influence, saying, “I’ll remember that moment the rest of my life.” 

Many others will, too. 

Friday

Western Carolina at Charleston, Total 148: Four of Carolina’s first five games averaged 162 total points and all went Over. It rates well offensively and Charleston, which is averaging 87 points in three of its last four contests, will score against Western Carolina’s shaky defense. OVER

Saturday 

Furman -3 at Winthrop, Total 153: Senior point forward Chandler Vaudrin collected his sixth career triple-double over the weekend for Winthrop, which got Chase Claxton and Russell Jones back from injury. The home team’s better 3-point touch will be the difference. WINTHROP and OVER 

Sunday

Oklahoma State at Texas, Total 139: The Longhorns’ defensive efficiency is rated third in the nation by KenPom and will star in Austin. UNDER

Last week: 0-1

Season: 4-2

About the Author
Rob Miech

Rob Miech

Rob Miech is a writer and contributor for Gaming Today, covering soccer and producing sports betting features. He has written about college hoops for the Las Vegas Sun, CBS SportsLine and the Pasadena Star-News. He is the author of four books, including Sports Betting for Winners.

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