The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

May 30, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Schifino reflects on sudden end to WVU career

MORGANTOWN — Time and circumstances have a way of changing history.

Drew Schifino is proof of that.

Schifino was one of the most prolific scorers ever to play basketball at West Virginia University, but his memory has faded fast and the circumstances in which his career ended at WVU have kept the memory from returning.

The year was 2004 — a decade ago — and Schifino was the Mountaineers’ leading scorer, averaging 18 points a game. He was 10 games into his junior season, coming off a 20-point-a-game sophomore year as he helped John Beilein slide into the WVU coaching position he had taken over in 2003.

Schifino was in the midst of an amazing run, having scored in double figures in the first 10 games of his junior year, all 29 of his sophomore year and the final nine games of his freshman year. That’s 48 consecutive games in double figures.

WVU was playing Notre Dame, and something was wrong. They were being blown out. Schifino had nine points, and Beilein yanked him from the game and never returned him. It ended his streak.

It ended his stay at WVU … and that was the final memory, the lasting memory.

“People remember me being dismissed instead of remembering I averaged 20 points a game as a sophomore; I broke a Big East record with 11 steals in one game as freshman; I scored over 1,000 points in two and a half years … people forget the things I did. The last impression is always the one that lasts,” he said Thursday afternoon, his journey from then until now worth telling.

Indeed, when he left WVU, he finished his collegiate career at California (Pennsylvania) State, then became a basketball gypsy, playing out a six-year professional career overseas in six different countries — Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, Holland and Czech Republic.

It was, he said, “cool, but when you get older, in your 30s like me, you get worn out from it. It’s a lot of travel. You are gone eight or nine months a year, and you get homesick and miss your family.”

And so it was that a year ago he returned home, back to Pittsburgh where he was a basketball legend, older and wiser.

He wanted to coach.

 “I was a great basketball player in Western Pennsylvania, and now I’m trying to give back to the kids,” he said, revealing that in addition to coaching in Waynesburg he’s in the process of trying to start his own AAU organization in Pittsburgh..

Great he was in Pittsburgh, a true high school legend at Penn Hills.

No player in the history of WPIAL basketball has scored in the playoffs like Schifino did in 2000 while leading Penn Hills to the third WPIAL title in school history.

It was an unforgettable run, 147 points in four playoff games. That’s an average of 36.8 per game. The 147 points remain a WPIAL tournament record. Schifino finished his high school career with 2,318 points when Gale Catlett recruited him to West Virginia.

That, in Schifino’s mind, is why the problem developed between himself and Beilein.

“It was one of those situations,” he said. “He was the best coach I ever had. His record proves it. But coach Beilein didn’t recruit me, and when a coach doesn’t recruit you, there’s a thin line and you wind up in an awkward position.

“I never want to knock someone. It is what it is. He saw things different from what I saw. I look at things different now. We all grow up. In that situation, no one was right and no one was wrong. I never broke any laws or broke any rules. He just had a different opinion than I did.”

If only he had known then what he knows now?

“I say that every day. If I could do it all over again it would have played out differently,” he said.

 Who knows just might have happened. The next year, which would have been Schifino’s senior season, they went to the Elite Eight before losing in overtime to Louisville, but what might it have been like with Kevin Pittsnogle, Mike Gansey, Tyrone Sally, Johannes Herber, J.D. Collins, Darris Nichols, D’Or Fischer and Schifino?

But Schifino, now looking at the world through a coach’s eyes, understands far better than he did then.

“As a player you focus on yourself and doing what you can do to win games. As a coach, you see the whole game. I love coaching better than playing actually,” he said.

And he may turn out to be a good coach for he got off to a strong start at Waynesburg.

“When I took over, they hadn’t won in a section game in three years. This year we won two section games. I guess it’s a process. We did better than the previous year. That’s all you can ask for,” he said.

He’s taking it seriously and getting help from unexpected places, like Bob Huggins, the WVU coach who followed Beilein and who never coached Schifino.

“Coach Huggins has helped me out a lot. He gave me a lot of information on his five-out motion offense, sent me a couple of videos and told me anything I needed he’d help me. Coach Huggins is a great man,” he said.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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