WEST LIBERTY - From the time Eric Anthony stepped on the court as a collegiate men's basketball player, he knew the game would always play the lead in his life. That his coaching career would put his family and friends in such a difficult position this early, well that's a different story.
Anthony, a former all-stater at Wheeling Central and a standout for Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., will be on the bench as an assistant coach Tuesday night as his Indiana University of Pennsylvania team stands between unbeaten West Liberty and a trip to the Elite 8.
''I know a lot of people in Wheeling are rooting for West Lib and they've probably got mixed feelings,'' Anthony said Sunday night after IUP knocked off Bowie State, 94-81, at the ASRC. ''I'm very good friends with'' West Liberty coaches Jim Crutchfield and Eric Bovaird, ''and they do a very good job.
''I've got all the admiration for them, but unfortunately I'm going to be on the other side.''
Anthony said he figured out coaching would be his thing once, as a team captain, he began instituting workouts during the periods in which the Lycoming coaches weren't permitted contact with their players.
''I tried to motivate guys and get guys to do things. Once we started doing that, it really donned on me that coaching, that's what I really want to do,'' he said. ''You fall in love with the game and it's hard to leave it. You've been doing it all your life and it's hard to let go of something like that.''
Anthony, who picked up a bachelor's degree in financial accounting and financial management last June, immediately starting sending out his information to schools in hopes someone would bite. It just so happened that NCAA Division II national finalist IUP and Coach Joe Lombardi were looking for an energetic young guy to help guide the program into the future.
''Coach Lombardi took a chance on me and I told him from Day 1 that I'm going to give him everything that I've got,'' said Anthony, who led Lycoming to a pair of Commonwealth Conference regular-season titles and a berth in the 2010 D-III Tournament. He knew I was going to be a hard worker and what I could bring to the table, and hopefully I haven't disappointed him.
''I consistently try to do the best I can. I couldn't ask for a better mentor.''
The goal, Anthony says, is to one day run his own program.
''I have a lot of goals and at the top of my list is to land a head coaching spot somewhere,'' he said. ''I don't know where that would be, but what I've learned from Coach Lombardi, and I've learned so much, is that it would be great to someday be a head coach.''
Anthony finished his playing career with averages of 15.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
Sharing the Basketball
Crutchfield said he's rarely seen the type of teamwork his club pulled off at one point during the first half Sunday night. But he'll make sure that everyone who wants to be a part of it in the future, takes a look.
Midway through the first half of the Hilltoppers' 98-93 Sweet 16 victory against Shaw, Atlantic Region and West Virginia Conference Player of the Year Corey Pelle blocked a Bears shot and the ball was saved from going out of bounds by Jordan Fortney, and into the hands of John Wolosinczuk. He then threw an outlet to Barry Shetzer, who flipped it Alex Falk, then back to Pelle, then back to Falk for the basket and a foul.
In case you're counting, that's all five players touching the basketball without it so much as hitting the court.
''It crossed my mind when I saw it - 'pull that clip out for future players,' '' Crutchfield said. ''I think everybody touched it and I don't think the ball touched the floor.
''We had a recruit here in the stands, and everybody that's going to put on a West Liberty uniform, I think that's something they should see.''
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net