Huggins downplays impact of time away

Updated: August 30, 2004, 9:08 AM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Bob Huggins didn't miss much during his 76-day, summer-long suspension, certainly not anything he can't make up as he makes recruiting calls for Cincinnati's first Big East recruiting class.

Bob Huggins
Bob Huggins' assistants kept the Cincinnati program running smoothly while he was gone.
Huggins was back at work Friday for the first time since being suspended June 12 after a June 8 arrest for driving while under the influence of alcohol.

Sure, Huggins missed the July evaluation period and hanging around the office in August while players shuffle through during summer school.

But it's not as though he can't make up for the lost time.

"I don't know [what I missed most] and I've thought about that a lot, but we're involved with a lot of great kids," Huggins told ESPN.com Friday afternoon by phone from Cincinnati. "[Assistants] Andy [Kennedy] and Keith [LeGree] did a great job.

"I would think that the past 15 years here and us playing on TV should tell kids what we're all about," Huggins said. "I saw a lot of guys in the spring."

Huggins added that winning a share of a Conference USA title in eight of the nine seasons the conference has been in existence means the Bearcats are more prepared for the transition to the Big East than any other team.

Translation: Huggins didn't need to see all of the recruits in July if he saw them in the spring. He's not too worried about the lack of face time or any recruit failing to see him wearing a "UC" golf shirt in the stands. Huggins said there could be some exceptions, but it's not as though he can't see any of the players the Bearcats are recruiting during the season.

As for missing some casual time with the players, well, Huggins downplayed that, too. Cincinnati is on the quarter system, and Huggins said he spent plenty of time with the players before he was suspended in June. The players went home this week for a few weeks before school starts in late September.

"I could always go out for 10 or 11 straight days in September because we start late," Huggins said. "The only disadvantage has been that we can't bring in recruits for visits because no one is here until late September."

The Bearcats have three newcomers -- freshman Vincent Banks and JC transfers Jihad Muhammed and Roy Bright -- as well as an early commitment for the class of 2005 in Tyree Evans, a shooting guard out of Winchendon School (Mass.).

So, what was so bad about the suspension?

"It's still an unanswered question," Kennedy said. "It did make life more difficult because we were minus our leader."

Kennedy and LeGree did have to take on more responsibility, especially when associate head coach Dan Peters split in mid-July to join Thad Matta's staff at Ohio State.

"I'd be lying if I said that didn't catch me off guard," Huggins said. "But those two guys -- Andy and Keith -- have been terrific. It's not a knock at Dan Peters, but those are the two guys who did the recruiting. He never went out [aside from the first week this past July]. He only went out this year to replace me."

Hall of Famer and Cincinnati alumnus Oscar Robertson was the interim coach once Peters left. All Robertson did was meet with the players a few times, and his role is over.

Also gone during the summer was oft-troubled forward Robert Whaley, who couldn't get his academic act together to stay eligible.

"Summer school is over, the guys went home and there is no new drama to report," Kennedy said.

The Bearcats should be one of the contenders again in their final season in Conference USA, with the return of senior forward Jason Maxiell, junior forwards Eric Hicks, Armein Kirkland and James White, and senior guard Nick Williams.

Huggins said there are some conditions about his return, but he wouldn't get into specifics. Brian Teeter, a UC spokesperson, said there is a personal agreement between Huggins and Cincinnati athletic director Bob Goin. It's not a zero-tolerance policy such as the one Indiana handed down to former IU coach Bob Knight.

But there are apparently rules of personal behavior and decorum.

Huggins said he has no problem controlling things he "can control." That probably means drinking.

"I want to be a good example for young people," Huggins said. "I want to be the best I can be. I can only control myself, not what people do or say about me."

When asked whether he was worried in June that he would be fired instead of suspended, Huggins said, "I work for good people. I've been very loyal here and had other opportunities to do other things [alma mater West Virginia and the L.A. Clippers, to name a few].

"But I do think that [firing] was taken into consideration," Huggins said.

I've never been away this much in my life. But getting away and doing other things and spending quality time with my family was good for me.
Bob Huggins
Huggins had a heart attack in September 2002. He was arrested for a DUI in June. How about a little less chaos?

"That's the plan," said Huggins, who is 50. "It always hasn't been that way. We lost point Alan Jackson to a knee injury in '93 when we had a chance to win it [the Bearcats lost to eventual champ North Carolina in the Elite Eight in overtime]. We lost Kenyon Martin to a broken leg in 2000 in the league tournament [when the Bearcats were going to be No. 1 going into the NCAA].

"Things have happened," Huggins said. "The only thing I can control is what happened in June. The rest I can't control [not even his heart attack]."

Huggins spent most of the summer hanging out in Ohio, fishing near his condo in Florida, then spending time last week at the Jordan Camp in Las Vegas with coaching colleagues.

He hasn't gotten into any specifics about any self- or court-ordered discipline from his DUI. But Huggins did say he has been walking five to seven miles a day the past month after eating too late during his fishing trips. He slimmed down a bit, but not as much as he would like. He did trim his hair, though, going with a crew cut.

"What we missed most was the guys seeing the laid-back Hugs," Kennedy said. "He is projected as this monster because of the three-second snippets people see on TV, but the reality is that 21 hours out of the day he's laid-back and in the offseason he's really that way. I hated for our guys to miss that.

"Coaching has consumed him the past 15 years here, and judging what he missed won't be known. Coach will recruit in September and get ready to coach this team."

Huggins said the boredom of not being around school wasn't as bad as he thought. He wasn't allowed any contact with the program, but he wasn't entirely out of the loop. His close friends and staff still spoke to him, just not on university phones. He was well briefed on what was going on and did talk to prospective assistant coaching candidates.

"I've been around the game since I was old enough to stand up [his father was a coach]," Huggins said. "I've never been away this much in my life. But getting away and doing other things and spending quality time with my family was good for me."

And ultimately, it might have been good for the program if he comes back healthy, rested and with a clean bill of health. Huggins missing one July recruiting period won't hurt Cincinnati if he can continue to win.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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