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SportsColumnistsGreg Logan

Logan: If Huggins can lure all that NY talent, why can't St. John's?

Head coach Bob Huggins of the West Virginia

Head coach Bob Huggins of the West Virginia Mountaineers gestures from the bench against the Georgetown Hoyas during the championship of the 2010 NCAA Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. (March 13, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

No doubt, there are some St. John's fans and alumni who are wondering right now if West Virginia really should be viewed as West St. John's. The No. 7 Mountaineers introduced a starting five composed entirely of players from the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area before the Big East Tournament title game against Georgetown last night at Madison Square Garden.

Coach Bob Huggins' team has a chance to earn a No. 1 NCAA regional seed after beating the hot Hoyas, 60-58, on Da'Sean Butler's basket with 4.2 seconds left.

Following West Virginia's semifinal win over Notre Dame Friday night it certainly was a timely question to ask Huggins how he managed to lure what amounts to an all-Metro team of Butler, Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones, Darryl Bryant and Wellington Smith to sleepy Morgantown, deep in the hollers of the Blue Ridge mountains.

"My effervescent personality,'' Huggins quipped after the semifinal win over the Irish.

Huggins, of course, is known as a tough guy, though he has learned in recent years to display his rough-edged sense of humor. He told a story that explains who he is.

"I grew up in Midvale [Ohio], 500 people, two stoplights, nine bars," Huggins said. "I got in the truck with this guy one time and I looked and he didn't have a rear-view mirror."

Huggins asked why. "He said, 'I don't back up. We're going forward, son,' '' Huggins recalled. "And that's kind of how I've lived my life.''

If Huggins looked in his rearview mirror, he'd see a controversial exit from Cincinnati, where the school president more or less forced him out after his recruiting practices came into question. He also upset folks at Kansas State when he left after a year to take the job at West Virginia, his alma mater.

But with the wins over Notre Dame and Georgetown, Huggins improved his career record to 666-240, placing him two victories ahead of UCLA's legendary John Wooden on the all-time list. More to the point, he's been a great recruiter wherever he's gone.

Sometimes his players have had a questionable academic record, as happened at Cincinnati. What isn't in question is that he has a track record of sending players to the NBA, and that has been a major lure for top recruits.

"I have had whatever it is, 17, 18, 19 guys, go play in the NBA," Huggins said. "I tell these guys [recruits], 'You take a heck of a chance if you go with somebody who hasn't done it before.' We've been fortunate to do it multiple times in getting guys in the [NBA]. So those things help."

At the same time, it's still a big step to take the boy out of the New York City metropolitan area to go to a place such as Morgantown.

St. John's coach Norm Roberts - yes, he's still coaching the Red Storm officially - recently noted that New York kids have been leaving the city for a long time to go to Villanova, North Carolina and any number of other great basketball schools. But in the good old days, St. John's still got its share of the top guys.

It hasn't been that way for a while now. Some say it's because St. John's doesn't spend as much on its basketball program as the top schools. But the Red Storm has built a modern practice facility, and although the $650,000 salary Roberts reportedly receives pales when compared with the top coaches in the business, it's nothing to sneeze at.

The fact is that St. John's still plays in the Big East, still plays many of its home games at Madison Square Garden and still is located in the middle of one of the greatest hotbeds in the country for high school basketball talent.

Reflecting again on how he managed to lure such a talented group from the metro area to Morgantown, Huggins said, "Honestly, I think if we weren't in the Big East, we can't recruit these guys. I mean, it's the best league in the country.''

So what's to keep St. John's from selling the same thing?


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