Huggins Receives High Praise from Nick Van Exel
Van Exel was the point guard for Huggins during Cincinnati's Final Four run during the 1991-92 season. Huggins was just in his third year at the helm and brought in talent from the JUCO ranks, constructing a team that burst onto the national scene.
"The guys he recruited was, myself, Corie Blount, Herb Jones, Erik Martin, Terry Nelson, we was all like Junior College players," said Van Exel before adding AD Jackson. "It's crazy because when you got all these different junior college kids, you know, JUCO, we was a little different. We wasn't the five stars and stuff like that. Most of the time, JUCO players had a little edge about them. And this dude molded that together. And he molded it together as a way, as a player, we didn't like it, but we respected the grind. He would literally have you ready to run through a wall. That was just the way he was."
Also, adding, "He would get in your face and curse you out, kick you out of practice.
"That's the kind of stuff we was going through all the time, but everybody – we knew, that the stuff he was teaching, it was legit. He instilled in us that 'toughness,' that 'grit,' that 'grimey' basketball. Like, 'we up in your face for 40 minutes. We ain't letting up.'
The Los Angeles Lakers drafted Van Exel in the 1993 NBA Draft, and the lessons continued into the NBA and made NBA All-Rookie second-team.
"That kind of carried over for me, especially going into the NBA, like it was just no fear - it was no fear," said Van Exel. "He put a lot of that in me. He put a lot of the 'when you line up against guys that you always got to think they're going to bust your ass.' No matter who it is, you always got to go into the game thinking you can get beat. You can get dusted off."
Van Exel continued, "Whoever I go up against, I'm gonna have to go at him no matter who it was because of Huggs. That's what Huggs was like, 'everybody can beat you. Everybody can destroy you.' So, you always have got to be on pins in needles."
As players continue to get the guidance of Bob Huggins, there's always the debate among his current and former players that Huggins has lightened up a bit. Van Exel is no different.
"Huggs was great. He's a little different now. He ain't the same Huggs as he was back when he was with us. He's a little calmer."
"Huggs was tough, I ain't gonna lie, that was probably one of the toughest coaches I ever had to play for in my life," said Van Exel. "My ninth-grade coach, Dr. Knight, he was tough. And then I had my JUCO coach in Trinity Valley, but none of them compare to Huggs. But, what they did, they helped me get ready for Huggs," then started laughing and said, "it still didn't help."
Van Exel played 13 seasons in the NBA, averaging 14.4 points and 6.6 assists during his career spending most of his it with the Lakers (5) and the Denver Nuggets (4).
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