MORGANTOWN, W.Va – Bob Huggins has been coaching for nearly 50 years. At this point in his career, it isn’t often he crosses off a first, but that’s exactly what happened for the head coach of the Mountaineers this week.
On Thursday, Joe Mazzulla, who played for Huggins at WVU from 2006-11, officially became the head coach of the Boston Celtics.
“It’s incredible. I’m so happy for joe and really the Celtic organization,” Huggins said in an exclusive interview for this weekend’s Bob Huggins Show. “He’s the first guy that I’ve coached that is an NBA head coach. We have a lot of guys who are coaches out there that have done a fantastic job, but not in the NBA.”
Mazzulla was named the Celtics’ interim head coach just days before the preseason. Since then, he’s led the team to the best mark in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, resulting in the organization making the decision to remove the interim tag.
One of his former WVU teammates, Alex Ruoff is getting his start in coaching as a graduate assistant with the WVU men’s basketball program. Ruoff played alongside Mazzulla for three seasons in gold and blue. The two spent a lot of early mornings together as they were workout partners.
Ruoff said he knew decades ago Mazzulla would go on to do something special within the basketball world.
“I really enjoyed our time together. You kind of knew back then with his determination, the way he attacked the game, and his fight on the court that he would do great things,” Ruoff said. “I couldn’t be more happy for him”
Huggins said he saw that same thing in Mazzulla over his three seasons. *
“I think Joe got better and better. I think as we all do, you start to realize your future is not as a player, it’s more in some other aspect of the game,” Huggins said. “Joe always watched to be a coach but Joe didn’t really want to be a college coach. He always had his sight on the NBA and he did a great job of working his way to that.”
There are a few other guys Huggins noticed that same quality in while he was watching their playing careers unfold under his leadership, including Darris Nichols.
Nichols, who played at WVU from 2004-08, started his career under John Beilein before Huggins took over the program in 2007.
He returned to Morgantown in 2010-11 to get his start in coaching as he was a graduate assistant for Huggins’ program. He was named the head coach at Radford in 2021 and is in the midst of his second season at the helm.
“Darris had a great perception as to what was going on and what was supposed to go on. He had a great feel. Kind of really understood the game. I think John did a great job with him,” Huggins said. “Darris always wanted to be a coach.”
A number of Huggins’ former players are working their way up the coaching ranks in some capacity.
Erik Martin (Cincinnati, 1991-93) who previously served as an assistant on the WVU staff is in his first year as a head coach at South Carolina State. Rob Summers (2005-07) is the associate head coach a Miami (Ohio) University.
DerMarr Johnson played one season (1999-2000) under Huggins at Cincinnati and became one of his assistant coaches at West Virginia in January. Ruoff is the latest on the list of former players to serve as a GA under the Hall of Famer.
While Mazzualla is his only former player to be an NBA head coach, a pair of his former teammates are among the pro ranks. Da’Sean Butler (2006-10) is the Assistant Video Coordinator for the New York Knicks while Jonnie West (2008-11) is the Director of Basketball Operations for the Golden State Warriors.