Hiltoppers are the Definition of Team


Webster’s Dictionary, obviously, hasn’t been updated in recent years.

My copy spells “team” as t-e-a-m.

A more recent version might spell it “Hilltoppers.”

Because that’s exactly what the West Liberty men’s basketball squad is -a team in the highest sense.

I’ve witnessed numerous winning roundball groups over the years but can’t recall many who play as well together as a TEAM as the current lone unbeaten college basketball program in America.

The 32-0 Hilltoppers should be a model for any roundball squad that seeks success without caring who scores the points, gets the headlines, etc.

Anyone who has witnessed the No. 1 ranked NCAA Division II team in the land this season has seen a group of 110 percent players who have meshed together to produce a winning formula rarely seen in these parts.

Seventh-year head coach JIM CRUTCHFIELD, and staff, have assembled a roster of players who were not highly recruited, if recruited at all, by the D-I colleges and they have overcome all odds to enter next week’s NCAA D-II Elite Eight event in Springfield, Mass., as the favorite to grab the brass ring and cap an unprecedented 35-0 record season.

The Hilltoppers have blended a collection of long-range sharpshooters who play defense, hustle, look for the open man, get second shots, and pass the ball.

There have been numerous unforgettable plays this season for the Hilltoppers but one which epitomizes the one-for-all concept came in the recent regional tournament. All five Hilltoppers players touched the ball, and the ball didn’t touch the court on the sharp passes, in the fast break resulting in a bucket. It was teamwork at its best as everyone shared in the play’s success.

But that’s been the core of this unbeaten squad that seeks West Liberty’s first national basketball crown next week at a site familiar to veteran WLU Athletics Director JIM WATSON.

Springfield College is the alma mater of Watson, who has been on the Hilltopper campus since 1971 and the AD since 1989.

With all the Hilltopper athletic successes in recent years under Watson’s leadership, wouldn’t it be nice if the “big one” was captured in Springfield?

By the way, if you’re wondering why no WLU basketball player is singled out in this essay, it’s by design.

This is a TEAM, not a collection of individuals.

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When you’re a media type and dealing with coaching types, you encounter all kinds of individuals. Some of them you respect, don’t respect, like, dislike, etc.

But Gene Ammirante, who recently retired as the ultra-successful Bellaire High boys’ basketball coach, was, and is, a genuine, self-made person who was passionate and enjoyed coaching teen-age athletes.

His peers in the coaching fraternity had the highest regard for the Big Reds’ mentor and his rapport with media was tops.

Despite all his team successes – he’s the fourth winningest boys’ coach in Ohio Valley history – Gene is without ego. That’s his nature and others could learn from it.

I once asked him why he stomped the sideline court so much during games and he said he wanted to get his players’ attention during all the crowd noise.

He got a lot of people’s attention with his coaching excellence.

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Enjoy the weekend.