MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — The coaching careers of Bob Huggins and Cliff Ellis have spanned from disco to the iPhone, 80 years and 1,701 wins combined between the pair.
They have experienced both heartbreak and triumph, from Huggins losing the nation’s best player in Kenyon Martin prior to the 2000 NCAA tournament at Cincinnati to Ellis’ Clemson team getting beat at the buzzer by Tate George and Connecticut in the 1990 Sweet 16.
Their paths have crossed numerous times in the offseason, usually at some Nike clinic, Huggins said.
“I know Cliff real well,” said Huggins, he of 860 career wins with 267 of them during his 12 seasons with the Mountaineers. “The Nike circuit, particularly back when coaches got away and spent some time together. Cliff is an absolute great guy to be around.”
Ellis’ 42 seasons have made him the only Division I coach ever to record at least 150 wins at four different schools.
He guided Clemson to a Sweet 16 and then did the same two more times at Auburn. He is in his 12th season at Coastal Carolina and has 841 career wins.
The two have never met on the court, though. That is until Monday’s CBI quarterfinal game, which will pit Huggins’ Mountaineers (15-20) against Ellis and the Chanticleers (16-16), members of the Sun Belt Conference.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum.
“They love their basketball and it’s a great test,” Ellis told myrtlebeachonline.com. “It’s a great opportunity to go into West Virginia and get that experience, and we’re on a national stage.”
Both coaches have been on a national stage before, but are simply looking to build some momentum for next season in the CBI.
“My thought going in was, the more games these guys play and the more they play together, obviously the better they’re going to get,” Huggins said. “I think the opportunity to play five or six more games would be extremely beneficial to them.”
West Virginia’s starting lineup today will have no seniors and will include four freshmen and a first-year junior-college transfer among its top seven players.
Coastal Carolina, which finished seventh in the Sun Belt, will have a starting lineup that includes senior Zac Cuthbertson, a second-team Sun Belt pick, who averages 18.2 points and shoots 48 percent from the field, but will also have two freshmen and a junior.
That is all on-the-court stuff, though.
Off the court, the two coaches built a relationship through good times and good stories.
When asked if West Virginia would consider playing today’s game at Coastal Carolina — the Chanticleers’ campus is a 20-minute drive from Myrtle Beach — Huggins was quick with his response.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I like Cliff a lot. Maybe if he brought the old band back. You know he used to be a singer.”
Ellis was the lead singer in a band called the Villagers in the mid-1960s. He gave up music in 1968 to begin his coaching career.
Huggins has seen it up close, while having dinner with Ellis and Nike founder Phil Knight.
“I remember one time we were in a restaurant somewhere with Phil Knight and some Nike executives,” Huggins began. “They asked if Cliff could go play the piano and sing. Eric Luckenbach, who was the head of college basketball, was playing the piano and Cliff was singing. Mr. Knight got an unbelievable kick out of it.”
Huggins did not sing.
“I just stayed in the background and hummed a little bit,” he said.
Following a victory against Radford, in 2014, Ellis began singing during an interview with a South Carolina TV reporter.
“Sittin’ in a la-la, waitin’ for my ya-ya,” Ellis sang. “That’s the song and that’s the first time I’ve seen you speechless.”
The winner of today’s game advances to the CBI semifinals, which are scheduled for either March 27 or 28. The CBI re-brackets the four teams heading into the semifinal round, so the opponent is still to be determined.
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