I am not going to spend time recapping the game. Here’s what transpired in a nutshell: Duke hit three-pointers and bodied West Virginia’s lankiness to clean the glass and dominate. Wanting the Mountaineers, the game was excruciating to watch. What was more painful was watching a singular sequence late in the second half.
West Virginia senior guard Da’Sean Butler is one of the better players in the country. He dominated during the Big East Tournament and has hit some very big shots in helping his team reach the Final Four. As one of the more talented players, he has been deemed a sure-fire lottery pick in June’s NBA Draft. His career may have just taken a huge hit.
He was driving into the lane from the left baseline when his left knee appeared to buckle. He fell hard to the floor and writhed in pain, grabbing behind his knee. Right off, having had knee problems myself, I knew a ligament had torn.
It wasn’t just a dislocation. It was much, much worse. He was tearing up and screaming. It was a sad, sad sight. On the phone with my cousin Matt when it happened, we had this reaction: “Oh no, no, not Butler. No.”
What happened next was a magical and heartfelt moment. Head coach Bob Huggins, nicknamed ‘Huggy Bear,’ has always had a closeness with his players, but I had never witnessed such affection by anyone than he displayed with Butler.
At the first sight of pain in Butler’s face, Huggins came over, layed on the ground beside him, and wrapped his arms around his neck. He talked to him, consoling him, presumably telling him it's all going to be alright. It was a very memorable moment. I no longer cared about the game itself. West Virginia still obviously wanted to win, but for me, win or lose, this scene went beyond basketball. It was about love, seeing players as family.
When Butler was helped off the court, Huggins took his players over and talked to them. At that moment, the Mountaineers balloon deflated. They were clearly emotionally drained having lost their leader, and their play suggested as much. Duke continued to light up their now shaken opponent. Sometimes teams battle back from a loss and use it as motivation. But the injury to Butler was so gruesome and so saddening that they had nothing left to give.
Yet, there was one more instance that signified the love between a player and coach. Knowing a loss would be the outcome, Huggins pulled his starters with just over a minute remaining, down by 18 points. The likes of Kevin Jones, Wellington Smith, and Devin Ebanks somberly walked on the sideline on their way to the bench. Each was hugged by Huggins, and each hugged back. It was a sight for already teared-up eyes.
Huggins' story and effect has been profiled in an article by the Associated Press. He has meant so much to the program, and his feelings towards his players were on display in inspirational fashion. West Virginia lost the game and their best player to what could be a very detrimental injury, but they have a very bright future with Huggins, a coach that has possessed a kind heart every stop that he’s been, leading a basketball program like few others have.
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