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Bob Herzel

April 13, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Gansey gets opportunity to see a Final Four

MORGANTOWN — Mike Gansey had seen that game before, had gone through the same kind of emotions, experienced being so close, yet so far away.

It was Monday last and he had flown from Cleveland, where he serves as the director of the Cavaliers Developmental League team in Canton, Ohio, the one that has employed Kevin Jones when he wasn’t playing with the Cavs as he is right now, to Atlanta to root for his former coach, John Beilein, against Louisville in the NCAA Finals.

For Gansey, it was his first Final Four.

Oh, he had chances to attend before. A couple of years back West Virginia rode Bob Huggins and Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones to the Final Four, losing to Duke when Butler blew his knee out and his NBA career with it.

Gansey, at the time, was still dreaming the NBA dream, hoping that he could put on the body weight necessary to play in basketball’s big time.

“I wanted to go to the Final Four then but I was playing in Europe,” he recalled.

So, he missed that and while he wasn’t happy about it, he was far less happy about it than the first time he missed it.

That was when he and one of the really great WVU teams coached by Beilein rushed to a 20-point lead over Rick Pitino and Louisville, when fans were actually calling airlines to get tickets to the Final Four at halftime, only to have it all come undone.

Louisville rallied furiously, must as it did when Beilein held a 12-point lead in Atlanta, and tied the Elite Eight game, sent it to overtime, then ate up the remains of a WVU team that had just spent everything it had to give in that game.

“Part of me is that I still have that eerie feeling about Louisville,” Gansey admitted in a Friday morning phone call. “It was different. I was rooting for Coach and being a Mountaineer and stuff, it was like, ‘Gosh, Rick got him twice.’ It would have been nice to see Coach beat them. That was hard to watch.”

Gansey owed Beilein so much that he absolutely refused to miss this Final Four, this one which could possibly finally give Beilein the perfect cap on a career that was so ... well, so damn basketball ordinary.

He wasn’t a blue blood, simply a guy who had made his way through the ranks, did it slowly and painfully, building a program, building a reputation, needing an amazing break to get to West Virginia when Huggins turned down the job of replacing Gale Catlett and when Dan Dakich walked out on it.

He came in and restored sanity, inheriting the gawky but wonderful Kevin Pittsnogle, bringing in his own son, Patrick, and the likes J.D. Collins and Johannes Herber from Germany and, of course, Gansey.

“I was at St. Bonaventure,” Gansey recalled. “That was a mess. There was a scandal. I wanted to transfer and, obviously, he wanted me. I liked Morgantown, I liked coach and next thing I know I’m in the Elite Eight and Sweet 16. I had never dreamed of that.”

He came and was put into the Beilein system, a system that has changed some at Michigan,

probably to fit a different kind of athlete more than anything else. If he had had a Trey Burke as his point guard at West Virginia you might have seen an NCAA championship here, but then again there haven’t been too many coaches who have been able to put a Kevin Pittsnogle on the floor, either, to create as great, if a different, matchup problem.

Gansey recalls what Beilein did with his West Virginia team.

“It was like the Michigan team this season,” he said. “He instilled so much confidence in his players. We had Johannes, we had Kevin, we had Pat, we had J.D. ... we had experienced guys. We knew how to play and obviously Coach Beilein could really coach.”

On March 11 Gansey had what must rank as the moment of his life, sinking a pair of free throws with 0.2 seconds left to give WVU a 78-76 victory over Villanova in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden.

“When I got the foul, I knew I was going to the line. I just looked up, looked around,” he said at the time. “The whole Madison Square Garden was standing up. The whole country was watching. Coach looked at me and said, ‘I love you,’ and that’s all I needed to make it.”

That was the way Beilein coached then and the way he coaches now, the way he took his Michigan team to the NCAA Finals.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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