The Times West Virginian

Opinion

November 3, 2013

FSU vs. WVU exhibition game great opportunity for fans in region

In the past decade, when current Michigan basketball coach John Beilein held the same job at West Virginia University, he recalled his playing days at Wheeling College in the 1970s.

Wheeling, Beilein remembered, met Division I Duquesne in Pittsburgh and dropped a close decision.

Just days later, the Cardinals returned to West Virginia Conference play, visited Fairmont State at the armory in Fairmont and were destroyed by coach Joe Retton’s Falcons, Beilein noted.

The respect remained decades later.

One of the preseason exhibition games Beilein scheduled for the Coliseum while at WVU was against the Falcons.

On Monday, thanks to a close relationship between WVU coach Bob Huggins and his former assistant and second-year Fairmont State University coach Jerrod Calhoun, the teams will meet for another exhibition at the Coliseum.

Game time is 7 p.m., with the ticket price at $10, and it’s a great opportunity for fans in North Central West Virginia to get a look at a couple of teams just days before they are to start their 2013-14 regular seasons.

“I worked with coach Huggins for a long, long time,” Calhoun said. “Our relationship is unbelievable. We worked it out when I got the job here. He thought it’d be great for our university and for our kids and program.”

The top priority for the teams, of course, is preparation for the season and playing as well as possible.

Last season, the Falcons, in Calhoun’s first year, were able to win 23 games, up from eight the previous season, and compete in the NCAA Division II Tournament, ultimately falling to West Liberty.

FSU senior Brendan Cooper says this year’s team is different, and the Falcons have even loftier expectations.

“We have a brand new team,” Cooper said. “If we play well against them, it’ll set us up for the rest of the season.”

As WVU transitioned to the Big 12 a year ago, Huggins suffered through his first losing season since his first year as a coach at 13-19.

Huggins, though, boasts a career record of 723-286. 133 of his wins have come while at WVU. Huggins led the Mountaineers to their first-ever Big East championship in 2010. In the same season, the Mountaineers went to the Final Four. The trip to the Final Four was WVU’s first since 1959. Teams coached under Huggins have made it to the postseason 27 of his 31 seasons, including five times out of the first six years with WVU. He ranks third in total victories among active Division I coaches.

Huggins, who like Calhoun is working with a number of new players, is eager to see the Mountaineers consistently shoot well.

“We make shots in practice. You would think in some point in time it would translate to doing it in games,” Huggins said. “I don’t think anyone would say Terry Henderson or Eron Harris isn’t a good shooter because they did it (last year).”

For Fairmont State, Monday’s outing — which will be televised on ROOT Sports — is an opportunity to build an even stronger following, a goal that Calhoun has stressed since taking the job.

“We’re trying to brand our program and build our program,” Calhoun said. “I think the Big 12 fans, of course the West Virginia fans, a lot of those fans come down and watch our games, too. They really enjoyed what they saw. So hopefully when the Mountaineers aren’t playing, they’ll drive down and see us.”

These are proud basketball programs that have fallen just short of national championships — the Falcons by three points to Central State of Ohio in 1968 and the Jerry West-led Mountaineers by a single point to California in 1959.

The scoreboard will show a winning team about 9 p.m. Monday. At the same time, there will be thousands of other winners — the fans who take advantage of the opportunity to watch the teams play.

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