By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
When Fairmont State takes the floor at 6 p.m. today against second-ranked Bellarmine, in a lot of ways the Falcons will be looking in the mirror.
Turnarounds: In 2005, Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport took over a Knights team that finished last in the Great Lakes Conference. He has since turned the team into a perennial contender.
Fairmont State coach Jerrod Calhoun, meanwhile, led the single-greatest turnaround in Falcons’ history when he inherited an eight-win team and produced 23 wins in his first season.
Coaching mentors: Both coaches also learned under some of Division I’s best. Davenport spent nine seasons as an assistant at Louisville under Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum and national-championship coach Rick Pitino.
Calhoun spent several years with coach Bob Huggins first at Cincinnati and more recently at West Virginia University.
Results: Using this formula, Davenport turned Bellarmine into a Division II powerhouse. The Knights have earned a trip to the Sweet 16 or further three times since 2008, winning the national championship in 2011.
The Falcons? Well, in this case, Calhoun is hoping that his team isn’t looking into a mirror, but instead a crystal ball.
“We’re striving to be a program like Bellarmine,” the second-year coach said. “They’ve been in the spotlight. They’ve cut down the nets. They’ve been to the final four. Coach Davenport has done that over time. That’s what we're trying to do at Fairmont, build a national power.”
Today’s game will be a major measuring stick of where the Falcons (7-2) are with that goal, both in terms of this young season and the young program.
In addition to being ranked second in the country, undefeated Bellarmine (7-0) is 33rd in scoring defense (65.9 ppg), 17th in rebounding (+10.6 per game) and third in blocks (seven per game).
But more than anything else, Calhoun said “the biggest compliment I would give them is their ability to pass the ball.”
The ability to find the open shooter shows on the court where the Knight feature four players who average double-figures. Like Pitino's Louisville teams, Davenport’s Knights like to make the extra pass to find an open 3-point shooter in rhythm.
Senior guard Keisten Jones, who Calhoun called “a potential All-American,” leads the Knights with 17.9 points per game. Jake Thelen (15 ppg, 9 rebounds), George Suggs (12.1 ppg, 4.3 rebounds) and Vance Hall (11 points) will also keep the Falcons’ hands full.
“It's going to be the biggest test of the year,” Calhoun said. “But we wanted to play good people. Our schedule, I think, is one of the best in Division II basketball. I think if people come out, they would see a really highly competitive game.”
NOTES: Fairmont State will be without senior Brendan Cooper and sophomore Ke’Chaun Lewis due to injuries. ... The Falcons are celebrating Small Business Appreciation Day at the game. Director of Athletics Tim McNeely is encouraging small business owners to attend the event. ... The first 150 fans through the doors will receive a free hot dog and soft drink courtesy of the Marion Country Commission.