In the latest installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel caught up with Kent State great Trevor Huffman, who is still the school's all-time leading scorer. Huffman scored 1,820 points in his four seasons at Kent State, helping to lead the Golden Flashes to three NCAA tournament appearances and an Elite 8 in 2002. Huffman has since played professionally in five different countries as well as the CBA.
Jon Teitel: What are your memories of the 1999 NCAA tournament (Huffman went scoreless in seven minutes in a seven-point loss to Temple)?
Trevor Huffman: How big everything seemed and how the fans at the Fleet Center just kept going up and up and up. I remember feeling so grateful for being there, just to experience it.
JT: In 2000 you were named Second Team All-MAC, and in 2001 and 2002 you were a First Team All-MAC selection. How were you able to continue to dominate throughout your college career?
TH: I think it was just a matter of working hard and having great coaches and teammates that always pushed me. Obviously there were more athletic players than me, but it takes a mental aspect, a physical aspect, and a spiritual aspect for me: to keep breaking down new barriers as a player and getting to new heights by always pushing myself in those areas.
2000 Postseason NIT
JT: You scored 18 points in a win over Rutgers (the first-ever postseason win in Kent State history) and had 13 points and five assists in a win over Villanova. Did you start to feel that you were a team of destiny, and what did you learn from the 1999 NCAA tournament that helped you succeed in 2000?
TH: Our early success definitely helped in making winning part of our mental psyche. We believed that we should have been winning every game we played. Our coaches instilled that in us, and all the players bought into it: Coach Gary Waters was a mastermind in that sense.
JT: You scored two points and fouled out in a seven-point loss to Penn State. Did you consider your run in the tournament to be a success (due to making it so far) or a failure (due to not winning it all)?
TH: Of course we wanted to go farther, but the NIT is not played on neutral floors and Penn State had a very good team. It was one of those games as a young player where you put too much pressure on yourself to perform and the opposite happens, rather than just playing the game.
2001 NCAA Tournament
JT: You scored a school tournament-record 24 points in a four-point win over Indiana (the first-ever NCAA win in school history). How big a deal was it to win that game, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards?
TH: That was a breakthrough for me personally and for our team as a whole. We had achieved so much in the past but had never moved past the first round. Once we did that it was like, "What else can we do?!" Winning that first round game on such a big stage led to total euphoria in the locker room. I know I did not want to leave the gym. Plus I got to talk to Leslie Visser and Bill Walton, which I could not believe!
JT: You scored seven points (2-11 FG) in a loss to Cincinnati. Was your team still on a high after beating Indiana, or did you just run into a better team in Cincinnati?
TH: They were just a better team, more athletic and used to playing at a higher level with more physicality and brute force. It was not something we were used to seeing that much.
2002 NCAA Tournament
JT: You played with transfer Antonio Gates, who has since become one of the best tight ends in NFL history. What did you think of his skills on the basketball court, and were you surprised that he turned into such an outstanding football player?
TH: Gates is an amazing basketball player: he just moves so fluidly for a man of his size. To this day he is the only big man that could honestly beat me in a suicide if he wanted to (note: IF he wanted to!). I am not surprised at all by his NFL success.
JT: You scored 18 points in a win over Oklahoma State. What did your team learn from the 2001 tournament that helped you succeed in the 2002 tournament?
TH: My junior year helped prepare me for my senior year. Our goal in the tournament was not just to win a first round game but to win a championship. We had fared well against some very tough teams earlier that year after a slow start, so it was about winning championships that year.
JT: You had 20 points and five assists in a win over Alabama (Mo Williams had 12 points after scoring 33 in the first round), the 20th straight win for Kent State that season. Were you at a point in the season where you just expected to win every time you stepped onto the court, and how far did you think your team was going to go in the tournament?
TH: Breaking all the MAC records and then winning 21 games in a row (the longest streak in the nation at the time) was just what we expected to do at that point. We wanted a championship so it did not matter who we played. We honestly thought that we could beat anyone. Coach Stan Heath's system and coaching style fit us so well: we were really playing at a high level and it was a credit to him and his staff. Coach Jim Christian is now at TCU and Coach Heath is now at USF.
JT: You scored 17 points in a five-point overtime win over Pitt, including the go-ahead lay-up with one minute left in overtime (Pitt's Julius Page scored 18 points but missed a three-pointer at the end of regulation). What was the team feeling like as the game went into overtime, and how were you able to maintain your composure and win the game?
TH: We felt cheated with 25 seconds left in regulation (Gates made a shot to give Kent State the lead but the officials called a jump ball instead), but it worked out okay for us. Pitt was a tough defensive team so we just needed a few shots to fall. Those games are about who is able to execute in the final moments and our experience helped us there.
JT: Kent State became the first MAC school to get to the Elite 8 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. What kind of praise did you get from other MAC schools, and did you still feel like a "Cinderella" after getting that far?
TH: We did not feel like a "Cinderella" at all. Coach Heath had us in complete tunnel-vision mode focused on winning a championship. We knew the mid-majors out there were rooting for us, and I still root for the small guys every year.
JT: You scored eight points (2-7 FG) in a loss to Indiana, who had one of the best long-range shooting displays in tourney history (15-19 3PT). Did you feel that Indiana was out for revenge because you had beat them the previous year, and was it just one of those scenarios where every shot they put up seemed to go in because they were "in the zone"?
TH: Ironically Indiana was probably the last team we wanted to see, as they had extra motivation. They had a good feel for our players and personnel and were amazing in that game. Most players cannot stand by themselves in an empty gym and make 15 of 19 three-pointers but they seemed to do it with ease. They were a well-balanced team that year and Jared Jeffries was a defensive X-factor who slowed us a down a lot.
JT: You finished your career as the all-time leading scorer in school history. Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were?
TH: Prolific? No. But good? Yes. I had come a long way from Petoskey High when no wanted me (Kent State did not offer Huffman a scholarship until the summer after he graduated from high school), so I knew how far I had come. I just wish I had more guidance coming into the pros and trying to make the NBA, which at that point was my next step. The game of basketball has shown me the world and I get paid money to play ball, which was always the dream in the 1st place.
JT: From 2003-2006 you played in Germany, Poland and Portugal, as well as for Great Lakes in the CBA. What did you learn from these experiences, and how did they compare to college basketball?
TH: European basketball is nothing like American college basketball due to the culture shock and language barriers. Success has less to do with your skills and more with your ability to make the transition into European life. I want to write a book on it and help kids learn what it means to play over here! I learned to adapt my game, my mind, and my life to a new way of living. Mostly I had to wipe the slate clean of what I thought I should be doing or where I should be playing and just try to do the best I could in the place I was.
Huffman is also on Jon's list of best fantasy players in MAC history.
Akron: Joe Jakubick (1984) 2583 PTS (#1), 189 STL (#2), 50.9 FG% (#1), 3-time All-American, 2-time conference POY
Ball State: Bonzi Wells (1998) 2485 PTS (#1), 843 REB (#4), 386 AST (#5), 347 STL (#1), 2-time All-American, 2-time conference POY
Bowling Green: Antonio Daniels (1997) 1792 PTS (#4), 563 AST (#2), 162 STL (#5), All-American, conference POY
Buffalo: Turner Battle (2005) 1414 PTS (#5), 458 AST (#3), 170 STL (#5), 126 3PM (#4), All-American, conference POY
Central Michigan: Dan Majerle (1988) 2055 PTS (#2), 834 REB (#5), 171 STL (#3), 95 BLK (#5)
Eastern Michigan: Kennedy McIntosh (1971) 2219 PTS (#1), 1426 REB (#1), All-American
Kent State: Trevor Huffman (2002) 1820 PTS (#1), 520 AST (#3), 80.5 FT% (#4), 210 3PM (#1)
Miami (OH): Ron Harper (1986) 2377 PTS (#1), 1119 REB (#1), 287 STL (#1), 173 BLK (#1), 53.4 FG% (#3), All-American, 2-time conference POY
Northern Illinois: TJ Lux (2000) 1996 PTS (#1), 1110 REB (#1), 130 STL (#5), 156 BLK (#3)
Ohio: Gary Trent (1995) 2108 PTS (#3), 1050 REB (#2), 105 BLK (#5), 57.3 FG% (#3), All-American, 3-time conference POY
Toledo: Ken Epperson (1985) 2016 PTS (#1), 960 REB (#1), 55.5 FG% (#4)
Western Michigan: David Kool (2010) 2122 PTS (#1), 163 STL (#5), 231 3PM (#2), 89 FT% (#2), All-American, conference POY