Sunday, January 11, 2004

Whaley learning hard way

Bearcats learn it's Huggs' way or the highway

Sooner or later he'll figure it out, and that big case of Huggs-itis Robert Whaley has now will seem like a 12-hour bug. If you can't beat him, join him, right?

"Have you ever given in to a player?" I asked Bob Huggins.


"Not once?"

"It's pretty well-documented, isn't it?" he said.

"Everybody thinks they know what it's like" playing for Huggins, allowed Eric Hicks, a sophomore forward. "You think: It's basketball. How hard can it be? But it's like Mike Tyson said: Everyone's got a plan, until they get punched."

In Bob Huggins' world, there are two types of players: Players who acquire his taste for hard work, and players who play somewhere else. Said Huggins: "You know what happens? Everybody that recruits against us says, 'You don't want to go there. They're crazy. You (practice) three hours a day. He's going to scream at you.'


Photos of Saturday's game
"Well, yeah, I am. That's all true. But you're going to get better. You can go somewhere else and screw around for an hour and a half. But you won't get any better."

Hicks left the team last season. So did Tony Bobbitt. Neither could handle Huggins in his ear every day. Both returned. Each is changed for the better. Asked to look back on last season, Hicks and Bobbitt politely declined.

Actually, the question went like this:

"If you knew you could say anything you wanted to Huggins last year and get away with it, what would you have said?"

Hicks: "I'm gonna give that one to Tony."

Bobbitt: "I never once wanted to cuss him out."

It's a kind of reform school these guys pass through. It usually works out well. Such as now. Saturday night, the Bearcats kept up their 2003-04 tradition of absolutely whomping people, improving to 11-0 with a 90-65 win over poor DePaul. The game ended with 14:42 left in the first half.

That's when James White took a pass off a steal and air-sailed a goodness-gracious jam that made it 12-5 and let the Blue Demons know there would be no serious competition the rest of the evening.

How good are the Bearcats? Who knows? Their schedule has been angel food cake. They were good enough Saturday to hold DePaul to six shots in the first eight minutes and 10 in the first 12. Good enough to have eight different players score in the first 10 minutes, each in a different way. That could make it difficult to defend the Bearcats this season.

Good enough, really, that Whaley wasn't needed. That, too, is part of Huggins' point. On a team this deep, minutes are solid gold.

"Why the radical change in Tony Bobbitt this year?" I asked Huggins.

"He wanted to play," Huggins said.

As Huggins sees it, his rookies "are used to getting their own way." After high school and/or junior college careers in which they've been kid-gloved, they can't understand it when Huggins whaps them with the verbal leather.

As Bobbitt put it, "Once you get here, it's no more fun and games."

"You're fighting him," Hicks said. "You're saying, I've been around basketball all my life, too."

Yep, and the sooner you figure out it's always going to be Huggins' basketball, the better off you'll be.

Bobbitt and Hicks have it down. Whaley, this year's prize recruit, is grappling. "Rob was really good," Huggins said. "The first week."

After a game off for a faulty work ethic, Whaley had 10 points in 13 minutes Saturday before he fouled out. Whaley can move for being 6 feet 10. He has a nice touch. He could take some of the double-team pressure off Jason Maxiell. Whaley could make a difference in March.

But only if he plays with the ball Huggins gives him.

"Huggs has been Huggs for 23 years," Bobbitt said, "and we're gonna change him?"



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• 1:00 p.m. Sat. Nov. 20
• Nippert Stadium
• Radio: WLW-AM 700


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