CLEVELAND — The first thing to know about Bob Huggins is fairly obvious.
“I’m not very nostalgic,” he said.
The second thing to know about the West Virginia coach is that despite his contempt for contemplation, he is a storyteller. If there were a hall of fame for that, he’d be in it already and not waiting outside for some peculiar reason.
The raconteur is in his realm this week, back in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since going to his second Final Four in 2010, back on the stage behind a microphone and before an audience. The fifth-seeded Mountaineers (25-9) play top-seeded Kentucky (36-0) in Thursday’s 9:40 p.m. CBS game at Quicken Loans Arena, and the preamble will likely include the umpteenth rendition of Huggins’ nearly fatal heart attack in 2002.
The story is famous now because it was Kentucky coach John Calipari’s cousin who hurried out of the back of the ambulance and rushed Huggins to the hospital. There’s debate over exactly what Calipari’s cousin said, and the coaches might hash that out in their press conferences Wednesday afternoon because the story is just that good, but there’s no debating this: It’s not the quintessential Huggins story.
The quintessential Huggins story goes back to his roots in east Ohio and a coal mining village that got its name because it sits between the towns of Uhrichsville and New Philadelphia. One day as a kid in Midvale, a town Huggins has described through the years as having 500 people, two stoplights and nine bars, he and a friend were walking somewhere to play basketball. A truck stopped alongside them and the older friend driving offered to take the two boys to the game. They hopped in the truck and noticed something unusual.
“Phil,” Huggins said to the driver, “you don’t have a rear view mirror.”
“We’re not going backwards,” Phil replied.
It’s stuck with Huggins…