West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has faced plenty of verbal abuse in opposing arenas. So did Denny Crum, who coached Louisville from 1971-2001 and won a pair of national titles.
During one game, he’d had enough and later relayed the story to Huggins.
A fan behind the bench continued to yell at Crum before the former head Cardinal calmly turned around and addressed him.
"He turned around and said, ‘Listen, would you like for me to come to your workplace and yell and scream and say all those nasty things you’re saying to me in my workplace?’" Crum said, according to Huggins. "If I went into Mcdonald’s while you were cooking fries and started screaming at you like that, how much would you appreciate that?"
Late in Saturday’s 65-61 loss to Texas Tech, Marcus Smart approached Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr and pushed him. Orr later admitted to calling Smart a "piece of crap," denying earlier reports that he’d used racist language. Either way, coaches across the Big 12 wasted no time in using the incident to remind players how they should deal with fans in hostile environments.
"The whole thing is, you don’t communicate with fans," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "It’s water off your back."
Huggins’ humor on the issue was colored with disgust that the conversation is even a necessary one.
"I think the great thing about playing for me is they’re all yelling at me. They kind of leave the players alone. They’re so busy yelling at me, they don’t have time to yell at the players," he said. "It’s kind of amazed me always. People pay whatever they pay–20 dollars–for a ticket and they think that entitles them to say things. They certainly wouldn’t walk down the street and yell that at somebody. They wouldn’t walk into somebody’s workplace and yell those kinds of things."
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger and Baylor coach Scott Drew all agreed that college basketball programs across the country are already using the incident as a teaching moment.
Things happen in the heat of the moment. You just try to tell your team not to react to it," Hoiberg said. "I can pretty much assure you every coach in the country went in and talked to their team about it the next day."
Added Kruger: "Anytime it happens with a player or a program, everybody has an opportunity to learn from that experience."
Fan hostility is present in nearly every sport, but Drew argued basketball is different.
"Basketball players deal with more ridiculue and people in your face from the standpoint that people are so close to you. You don’t have a barrier. That’s partly why it’s tough to win on the road," he said. "Crowds get into it, but at the same time, athletes just have to focus on what they can control."
TCU coach Trent Johnson makes his team aware of controlling themselves when they’re most exposed to fans: During pregame, halftime and after games any time they’re leaving the floor and entering a tunnel or walking past fans who might toss an abusive word their way.
As Huggins’ story suggests, almost no coaches believe fans are any more or less vulgar than they were decades ago, but Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith says players do face different challenges in blocking out ugly words from fans.
"With social networking, fans know more about players and can personalize insults," he said. "They can really dig deep and be a thorn in an athlete’s side."
Saturday’s incident was ugly and won’t be forgotten soon, but it’s clear that film and teaching sessions have and will continue to address it in hopes of making sure it’s the last in college basketball for the foreseeable future.
"I tell our guys all the time, I’ve never seen a crowd get a rebound, make a basket, get a foul," Huggins said. "You go play the game the way you’re supposed to play the game."