K-State fans cheer Huggins’ return to Bramlage


West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins returned to Manhattan on Monday for a nationally-televised matchup against K-State, his former employer. Although he hadn’t set foot in Bramlage Coliseum in over five years, few Wildcat fans had forgotten about Huggins’ one-season stint as K-State’s head coach.

After Huggins’ first year at the head of the Wildcat basketball program in 2006-07, he promptly left to take over the head coaching position at his alma mater, West Virginia.

With Huggins’ departure, the embattled head coach’s promises of restoring K-State basketball to its former glory seemed to have been abandoned — along with the Wildcat fan base. Those in attendance for Monday’s Big 12 matchup hadn’t forgotten about Huggins, and they let him know it.

So it was a surprise to some that when Huggins’ name was announced over the Bramlage PA prior to tipoff, it was met with a chorus of cheers.

At the time of Huggins’ departure, the thought of the Morgantown, W.Va., native ever being welcomed back to Manhattan with open arms seemed about as likely as the K-State student section giving Bill Self a standing ovation before a Sunflower Showdown. “Huggieville” shirts were burned statewide. The entire fan base felt as if they had just been dumped by the coach of their dreams.

But after the initial pain of ending such a promising relationship softened, acceptance and rationality started to set in. One of the “traitor’s” assistants was hired to take over, some guy by the name of Frank Martin, and apparently he would be able to keep a couple of big-time recruits committed. Maybe it was worth staying on this sinking ship to see if it could stay afloat a little while longer.

The next five years were some of the best seasons K-State basketball has ever experienced. Five straight seasons with 20-plus wins, four NCAA tournament berths, an Elite Eight appearance — it was a renaissance era for Wildcat hoops. It was also, in large part, thanks to Bob Huggins.

When Huggins came to K-State he inherited an abysmal situation. The Wildcats hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1996, hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1988 and were located about 90 miles west of one of the most successful college basketball programs in the country. It would take more than a bit of elbow grease to get this clunker of a program running again.

Huggie Bear didn’t just jump-start the K-State basketball program, he gave it a complete makeover. By signing recruits as highly-coveted as Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, Huggins made a statement that the Wildcats were back to being serious players in the Big 12. Knowing future NBA draftees would soon be wearing purple and white, Nike created flashier uniforms for K-State basketball. The image of Wildcat hoops changed overnight.

The “Fighting Huggies” finished their first and only season with a trip to the NIT. While it would usually be seen as a disappointment to miss the NCAA tournament, any fan of K-State basketball knew Huggins’ first season was a success. The foundation had been laid for the program to succeed, it was just a matter of time before the results began to show.

Huggins may have left for West Virginia, the one job he would have left any program for, but that foundation stayed in place. Frank Martin was able to quickly find success with the situation handed down to him.

Martin continued to build off of Huggins’ success because he was able to recruit to a program that suddenly had credibility again and earn consistent NCAA tournament appearances with quality players already on the roster. Without Huggins’ contributions it would likely have taken Martin years before his teams could begin contending in the Big 12.

Once Martin left for South Carolina, the K-State basketball program was attractive enough to go out and hire a former Naismith Coach of the Year award-winner like Bruce Weber, who has since only added to the program’s reputation. Weber, like Martin, has found instant success with the solid foundation already in place. None of this would have been possible without Huggins and his one season as K-State’s head basketball coach.

After Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers fell to Weber’s Wildcats 71-61 on Monday, it wasn’t the scene of contempt between K-State fans and their former coach that one might have once imagined. Huggins saw what the seeds he planted in 2006 have flourished into, and the Wildcat faithful saw their team defeat the coach who had rejuvenated their once-stagnant program.

Almost six years ago, K-State fans were resentful when Bob Huggins left them. As Huggins parted ways with Manhattan for a second time Monday night, they only felt gratitude.

Donald Pepoon is a sophomore in biology. Please send comments to sports@kstatecollegian.com.