Mountaineers Filled State With Pride
INDIANAPOLIS – The pain will linger like the smoke coming out of one of the factories. The bruise will run deeper than the valleys.
West Virginia, usually near the top only in things like obesity and poverty, captured the attention of the nation in a positive way this time with an East Regional championship and a run to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four.
Yes, the Mountaineers lost. Only one team’s not going to experience that – either Butler or Duke, probably Duke if it shoots the way it did Saturday night in a 78-57 victory against West Virginia.
Let’s hope WVU fans don’t have to wait another 51 years to see a run like this again – you know, when Jonnie West has college-age kids – but the images of this magical season will last at least that long.
Who will forget Da’Sean Butler’s game-deciding shots?
All six of them?
This is a kid from Newark, N.J., who didn’t just put a team on his back, he put an entire state on his back. And carried it to the Final Four.
He sprained his knee and missed the final 9 minutes, and says that will be what he remembers most.
“I have to,” he said. “I’d do anything for those last (9) minutes.”
Fans will remember the first 4,400-plus the man played as a Mountaineer (more than anyone else in school history). They’ll remember a guy who wasn’t even the highest-recruited player on his own high school team becoming a 2,000-point scorer and second-team All-American.
They’ll remember the guy who was so competitive, he felt losing in the national semifinal was somehow shameful.
“For us, if we’d won that, it’s like paying (the WVU fans) back for everything they’ve done for us,” he said. “Not just make it to the Final Four and just lay it down.
“Just like your parents, they’re going to be proud of you. Our fans, it’s the same way. Regardless of what we do, they always stick with you. But there comes a time when in your life when you need to do something to make them proud, not just say they are.”
They’ll remember him saying things like that.
What about coach Bob Huggins, the rough and tough state native who came back home, tearing up upon hearing “Country Roads” blaring through the speakers at Madison Square Garden?
His quote, “if you’re not from there, you’ll never understand,” sending goose bumps through those of us who are.
They called him a renegade, a rebel, and a rogue. We called him “Huggy Bear.”
If you don’t like him, don’t come to our state, was the return message.
What about Joe Mazzulla, who at first because of a devastating – and extremely rare – shoulder injury was the point guard who couldn’t. And then did?
On Saturday night, both his jersey and his head were split.
He played a season-high 32 minutes.
There were others. Wellington Smith, Cam Thoroughman, and John Flowers were recruited by John Beilein as shooters. They won’t be remembered for that, though. It was setting screens, pulling down rebounds, diving for basketballs.
The dirty work people from West Virginia appreciate.
These guys won hearts from Bluefield to Chester, from Inwood to Parkersburg. And all points in between.
West Virginia? One of the last four standing?
You bet we’ll take that. It was Almost Heaven.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org