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Pittsburgh notebook

Martin and Huggins have healthy respect

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 15, 2012
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PITTSBURGH - Just before the NCAA Tournament selection show on Sunday, Kansas State coach Frank Martin gave his mentor, Bob Huggins, a call.

Martin had a hunch they might land fairly close to each other after the brackets were announced.

He asked Huggins, “You feel good about this?’’

Huggins said, “Yeah. We’ve got to be in. The numbers are too good.’’

Martin said, “Well, I think you’re right. Let’s talk after the show.’’

When it was over, Martin’s Wildcats were the eight seed in the East Regional, Huggins’s Mountaineers were the 10th seed, and they were both headed to Pittsburgh.

“Of all the cities that we can possibly do it in: Pittsburgh,’’ said Martin. “Do you know how much time he and I have spent in Pittsburgh together? And the thing is every time we’re here, it usually becomes an emotional moment.’’

Huggins suffered a massive heart attack 10 years ago at Pittsburgh International Airport.

“That conversation usually brings up that moment again,’’ said Martin, who battled pneumonia and pancreatitis in 2006. “It becomes an emotional moment, like he told me when I was on the bed and I thought I was gone [six] years ago. He walked in, and anyone who knows Hugs, he gave me those words of encouragement. I was laying there, not knowing what was wrong with me. He said, ‘Hey, Frank, I was flatlined twice and I’m still here. So when it’s time to go, don’t fight it.’ It’s one of the greatest lines of all time.’’

Huggins and Martin have been friends since Huggins saw Martin coaching at Miami Senior High School and admired the way he ran his practices. Martin ultimately became a part of Huggins’s staffs at Cincinnati and Kansas State.

“I teased Frank all the time,’’ Huggins said. “I said, ‘I had to hire you before I got one of your players.’ Never got a guy from Miami Senior. Frank went out and recruited some guys.

“Frank does things the right way. He’s the guy who got into coaching for the right reasons. He got into coaching because he loves basketball, because he wanted to help kids, because he wanted to make a positive impact on young people’s lives. I have a great respect for Frank and what he’s done.’’

They’re known for their gruff exteriors, but their track records speak for themselves. Martin has won 116 games over the last five seasons, with four NCAA Tournament trips.

Huggins’s 710 wins place him fourth among active Division 1 coaches.

“We share a lot of the same values,’’ Martin said. “That’s why I’m so lucky. I’ve been around people like that my whole life.’’

A real character

An epic news conference following Loyola’s MAAC championship win over Fairfield officially introduced the world to Bulldogs coach Jimmy Patsos, but when he was introduced to the media Wednesday ahead of their NCAA Tournament opener against Ohio State, Patsos joked that he was fresh out of stories.

After all, he had been out to dinner with Dave Dickerson, Billy Hahn, and Matt Roe the night before, reminiscing about their days under Gary Williams at the University of Maryland, and he told them all.

“It was fun,’’ Patsos said. “We talked about all the stuff, how much we accomplished. We laughed with everybody having a video guy, a weight guy. I said, ‘I was the academic guy. Dave did the video. Billy went to weightlifting in the morning.’ It’s changed.’’

Patsos’s own story has taken him from bartending in Washington, D.C. to coaching for little money under Williams, to leading Loyola to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1994.

He’s done it with an eccentric brand of coaching, at times drawing technical fouls, at times throwing fits on the sideline, and one time even marching into the stands out of frustration.

“I feel great cutting down the nets at Loyola as head coach,’’ Patsos said. “The climb was not always easy.’’

After winning 24 games and the conference title, his players have learned to appreciate his methods.

“Any time somebody asks him a question it’s a 15-minute answer,’’ senior forward Shane Walker said. “He goes off on a tangent, you have no idea where he’s going. He’s such a great guy, you just learn to accept it and love it.’’

Happy to be here

The trip here from Morgantown, W.Va., takes not even two hours, but even though Gonzaga had a cross-country flight from Spokane, Wash., Huggins joked that the Mountaineers’ short trip didn’t give them an advantage.

Huggins said, “They were talking about them flying 2,200 miles. I said, they’ve never rode with our bus driver. I’m stressed from the time I get on the bus.’’

Huggins said he hopes West Virginia fans travel to the game. If they do, Gonzaga freshman guard Kevin Pangos said his team will treat it like a road game.

“We’re not sure what the fans are going to be like,’’ he said. “Really, we’re not worried. That’s not what our biggest concern is. We’re more worried about our approach to the game, how we handle the other team and our strategy.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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