The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

December 19, 2010

Thoroughman comes off pine, sparks WVU win

MORGANTOWN — Cam Thoroughman continued to reinvent himself as a West Virginia basketball player on Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum as he came off the bench to lead the Mountaineers to a 74-63 victory over Cleveland State, the undefeated top-ranked mid-major in the country.

Strictly a role player for his first three seasons here, inserted in games simply to give them a burst of energy or battle against men down low who were far bigger than he, Thoroughman has become perhaps the most valuable of all the Mountaineers.

Throughout the first 92 games of his career, he averaged less than 9 minutes a game, scoring only 1.1 points per contest and had compiled only 61 assists.

But in WVU’s last two games, Thoroughman has emerged as a key operative in the WVU offense and defense. He played 34 minutes as a starter against Duquesne in WVU’s victory and 33 minutes off the bench in this game, scoring a career-high nine points with six rebounds and making like the No. 2 guard he swears he was at Clay High in Ohio he had seven assists and nary a turnover.

In that Duquesne game he had five assists, seven points and four rebounds, all the while playing hard-nosed defense.

Even coach Bob Huggins, who has seen just about everything in coaching 921 college games, is somewhat amazed by the progress Thoroughman has made since Huggins arrived on the scene three years ago.

Thoroughman had been recruited by Huggins’ predecessor, John Beilein.

“Believe it or not, I came here as a 2 guard,” he said.

Huggins has a hard time believing it.

“The first time I saw him Cam was a self-proclaimed good shooter,” Huggins said, laughing. “It’s funny, he kept trying to get everyone to tell me ‘Remember how I used to shoot it when I was a freshman.’ I said, ‘Cam, shooting a basketball is like riding a bike. You can go 10 years without riding a bike and get back on that bike and ride it. You don’t lose that much.’

“Well, I happened to run into John Beilein and I said, ‘John, I have to ask you something? Could Cam Thoroughman ever shoot’ and he said, ‘Nooooo.’”

Someone, at this point, asked Huggins if he believed Thoroughman had been a point guard in high school, to which he replied:

“I was told that, but I’d really like to see who they played against.”

All of this, of course, was good for a lot of laughs, but it could not be very funny to former Rutgers coach Gary Waters, who runs the Cleveland State program, and had absolutely no answer for Thoroughman or three other major culprits — John Flowers, Kevin Jones and Casey Mitchell.

Flowers and Jones had double-doubles, Flowers with 10 points and 11 rebounds and Jones with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Mitchell had 15 points, including one of the game’s key plays when he was fouled on a perfect backdoor cut and accepted a pass from Thoroughman.

In fact, it was Thoroughman’s deft and intelligent passing all day, including a dazzling alley-oop to his roommate Jonnie West for a layup, that turned the game around.

Much has been made about West’s decision to rejoin the team after saying he would not play his final year of eligibility to go to graduate school, but Thoroughman was faced with the same decision and went to Huggins to ask if he wanted him to return for his final year or just go after his advanced degree in industrial relations.

“Absolutely,” was Huggins’ answer.

“I knew he would give us minutes, good minutes,” Huggins explained. “He’s smart enough to pass and set ball screens.”

But Huggins didn’t know he’d get 30-minute games out of Thoroughman that would actually dominate play, as he’s done the last two games.

Some of his teammates knew, however.

“It was just a matter of getting a chance,” said Flowers. “He’s a smart player, a team player. I love playing with him.”

In the end, they all talk about his basketball intelligence, something he even mentions when asked what is going on with his game this season.

“I have a high basketball IQ,” he said. “I try to understand the game.”

Because of that he is seeing everything on the court and reacting to it quickly. That was the case on one play when the ball came to him with the shot clock winding down. He fumbled the pass, yet had enough cool to pass it on to Casey Mitchell for a 3 rather than panic and throw up a shot himself.

“Casey as a better chance to make that 3 than I have of making a shot from 3-feet away,” he explained.

But ask him his favorite play in the game and he doesn’t like any of his own, going instead to a block made by Flowers by coming from behind on the Vikings’ 6-9 center Aaron Pogue, slamming it into the backboard.

“I remember I was down there low, guarding the big guy, and he shoots and I hear this smack and it sounds like a bullet is hitting the backboard,” he said.

But it was Thoroughman who continued to make his mark on this WVU team that has turned this into an amazing season.

“Maybe it’s just my time,” Thoroughman said.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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