Sunday, June 13, 2004

Bearcats lose their identity

But program will manage despite absence of high-profile Huggins, they say

By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

For 15 years, coach Bob Huggins has been the face, the voice and the heart of University of Cincinnati basketball.

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Video icon Saturday news conference
Video icon Police in-cruiser video of Huggins being pulled over
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View the police report

Players and assistant coaches have come and gone, but Huggins has remained the one constant of a program that has made 13 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament and has been consistently ranked among the nation's Top 25 programs through three different leagues, three different athletic directors and two university presidents.

Now Huggins, suspended indefinitely Saturday by athletic director Bob Goin after a drunken-driving arrest, will not be part of the program for an unspecified period of time.

Goin said he had not decided who would run the program in Huggins' absence.

"We'll move quick and swift," he said.

Goin said at the Saturday news conference announcing Huggins' suspension that he probably would have an announcement by the afternoon, but then he decided to wait.

"We're not doing anything with the interim (coach) until Monday," associate athletic director Brian Teter said Saturday night. "(Goin) met with the assistants today at his house. He's going to chew on it over the weekend and see what he wants to do."

Goin could choose to give the interim title and responsibilities to associate head coach Dan Peters or recruiting coordinator Andy Kennedy, or could set up an arrangement in which they share the duties.

Neither Peters nor Kennedy returned calls Saturday.

Peters was 78-87 as a head coach at Youngstown State before joining the UC staff in 1999. He is Huggins' right-hand man on the bench during games and practice. He does not recruit but is involved in preparing scouting reports for upcoming opponents.

Peters took over after Huggins was ejected from UC's NCAA Tournament loss to Gonzaga in 2003 and ran the program while Huggins recovered from a heart attack in the fall of 2002.

Kennedy, a former star and assistant coach at Alabama-Birmingham, has been at UC since 2001. The other assistant coach is Keith LeGree, who played for Huggins at UC from 1994-96 and has been a UC assistant since 2000.

Huggins will not be permitted to speak with recruits during his suspension, Goin said, which means the person most players cite as their reason for attending UC will not be there to sell the school.

"I think right now we need to have him removed from the demands of the job," Goin said. "I think he has built a great staff. I think he has a great foundation. We're going to rely on that foundation."

The Bearcats return nine players from last season's 25-7 team. Center Asrangue Souleymane, who was redshirted last season, and forward Mike Pilgrim, an academic non-qualifier year season, also are expected to be available next season.

UC also has three incoming recruits - point guard Jihad Muhammad, forward Roy Bright and guard Vincent Banks.

"I was with Jihad quite awhile this morning," said Scott Gernander, Muhammad's coach at San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College. "Coach Kennedy talked to him and he's fine with it. He likes Coach Huggins. He's still excited about it. I think the way he looks at it, by the time he gets there in the fall, I don't think it's something that will affect him."

Junior forward Eric Hicks said he hadn't yet talked to Huggins but continues to support him.

"I'm on his side," Hicks said, "and that's pretty much how I feel about it. We've just got to come together. Everybody makes mistakes. We've all made mistakes before. I know he's going to do the right thing."

Tarrance Gibson, a former UC guard, said Huggins' absence should not adversely affect recruiting if time is taken to investigate Huggins' record.

"I would say to all of those potential recruits out there, 'Come talk to me,' " Gibson said. "I'm a prime example of what Huggins can do to your kid. I'm from the projects of Dothan, Ala. I had a single-parent mom and I'm a fine, fine young man in the city of Cincinnati. ... I'm willing to put his record against anybody's for what he has done for all the kids after they leave school."



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UC puts Huggins on leave with pay
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Bearcats of seasons past standing by their mentor
Goin statement

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