MORGANTOWN - Yes, coach Bob Huggins would have loved leading his West Virginia men's basketball team to the NCAA tournament championship this year.
Despite losing to eventual champion Duke in the Final Four, however, he is proud and pleased with the Mountaineers' numerous achievements.
"Absolutely, I'm very pleased," Huggins said as he reflected on a season in which WVU posted a 31-7 record, captured the school's first Big East Championship, and won the NCAA tournament's East Regional crown. The Mountaineers displayed early-season strength by winning the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif.
"I'm happy with what our players did this year," Huggins said. "We had great kids.
"In a lot of ways, they were better people than basketball players. They are great kids. They did everything we asked of them."
The 31 victories not only topped the previous high of 29 by the 1958-59 team, but tied Huggins' personal high for 28 years as a head coach. His 2001-02 Cincinnati team posted a 31-4 record.
The veteran coach was not really surprised, though.
"I thought we could be pretty good going into the season," he recalled. He thought the team had good chemistry as well as good size.
And it developed into one of the nation's best defensive and rebounding clubs. The team averaged 38.6 rebounds per outing for its 38 games.
West Virginia's 585 offensive rebounds set an all-time record for the most in a season.
"Our guys accepted their roles," Huggins noted. "I loved them as people, and they love each other. As I say, they are a great bunch."
In taking over the WVU reins three years ago, Huggins set the goals very high. He talked about not only winning the Big East Championship but the national title as well.
"Our players want to keep winning for the university, the state and its people," he said. "We're going to try to figure it out. We hope to keep getting better."
West Virginia finished third in the final ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll. It was sixth in The Associated Press media rankings.
Three players are leading, along with a fourth to be named later. Seniors Da'Sean Butler and Wellington Smith are graduating and sophomore Devin Ebanks is making himself available for the National Basketball Association draft.
Butler, a 6-foot-7 forward/guard from Newark, N.J., averaged 17.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game this year. He made the John Wooden All-America team and Basketball Time's All-America first team.
He scored more than 2,000 points in his incredible career to rank third all-time behind the legendary Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley.
Ebanks, a 6-9 forward from Long Island City, N.Y., averaged 12.0 points and a team-best 8.1 rebounds per contest.
He made the All-Big East third team. Butler is on the first team.
Smith is a 6-7, two-year starter from Summit, N.J., who scored at a 6.6 clip and tallied 4.1 rebounds per game. He logged 75 career starts.
As a team, the Mountaineers averaged 72.4 points this season while giving up only 63.5 per game. Several opponents were limited to a total score in the 50s.
Huggins' three-year record at his alma mater is 80-40.
His career record for 28 years is 670-241. Only four active head coaches have won more games