Capel Admires Huggins’ Connection to Players

Pitt coach sings praises of WVU coach before Saturday showdown

Josh Rowntree
December 06, 2018 - 1:51 pm
West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins talks to forward Sagaba Konate (50) during the second half against the Florida Gators at Madison Square Garden.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

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Bob Huggins has put together an impressive résumé as a head coach. Well over 800 wins, five conference coach of the year awards, two trips to the Final Four.

But Pitt coach Jeff Capel credits Huggins for something else. 

“The thing that I’ve always admired is how his players love him,” Capel said Thursday, two days before the Panthers and Mountaineers meet in Morgantown. “He coaches them hard. I mean really, really hard. But they know that he loves them. And, because of that, they love him. And he’s able to coach them hard, he’s able to push them, he’s able to, at times, take it to the edge. But they know that he truly cares about them.

“I’ve always felt that’s the sign of a really good coach, is how loyal the players are to him. You go back to those guys who played with him at Cincinnati, and the guys that played for him at West Virginia and that play for him there… they are incredibly loyal to him. That’s a testament to who he is as a man than as a coach.”

That said, Capel acknowledges the success Huggins’ teams have had on the floor. 

“I’ve always had a ton of respect for him,” Capel said. “I think he’s coached some of the best teams. I thought he had a team at Cincinnati (in 1999-2000). It’s a travesty what happened to Kenyon Martin, because I thought they were the best team in the country.”

Martin, infamously, broke his leg that season, ending his National Player of the Year campaign and derailed a Bobcats season in which they were favored to win the National Championship.

Fast forward 19 years and Huggins is still having success, leading the Mountaineers four consecutive 25-plus win seasons, including three trips to the Sweet 16 in the stretch. Now in his 12th season in Morgantown, Huggins has won 259 games and reached the Final Four once. 

Huggins’ style, an oppressive, smothering trap defense that has led to the moniker ‘Press Virginia,’ has been coupled with a team that brings legit length to the floor. 

“Their size, their offensive rebounding,” Capel said of what sticks out with this WVU squad. “Obviously they aren’t turning people over at the rate that they have in previous years. But they’re still turning people over. And that’s been kind of a thorn in our side, especially here recently.

“They really attack the offensive glass, which is a staple of a Bob Huggins team.”

The Panthers are still finding their way under Capel. There’s been promise shown, with a 7-1 start and a tough, close loss on the road at nationally ranked Iowa. But Pitt is coming off a disappointing 71-70 home loss to Niagara and now travels to Morgantown for a bigger test for a young Panthers squad. Even if the Mountaineers have stumbled a bit, going 5-3 to begin the season, Pitt will be in for a battle.

“We’ve had a chance to be on the road, a true road game, against an outstanding opponent in Iowa,” Capel said. “We did some really good things. I think the thing for all of us, all of our team, is to understand is how together we have to be. And we have to be able to sustain it for 40 minutes. You can’t have lapses, you can’t have a lot mistakes when you’re playing an outstanding team anywhere, but especially on the road.”

Hear all of what Jeff Capel had to say below.