MORGANTOWN — What Da’Sean Butler did last week in the Big East Tournament was, no doubt, an amazing feat. Some players play and entire career without hitting a game-winning basket, let alone to drop two in within the space of three days on a stage no less than Madison Square Garden itself.
Some people are just born to be heroes.
But we offer up today for your consideration the fact that on a degree of difficulty, a do-or-die shot in a given moment from a player who is lathered up and fully immersed in the game rates somewhere below a player coming cold into an affair in a crucial situation and being able to do the same thing.
In short, what we are saying, is that what Jonnie West and Casey Mitchell did last week in that same Big East Tournament on that same Madison Square Garden stage was as difficult as what Butler did, if not quite as dramatic.
Consider that West and Mitchell have spent most of their season sitting somewhere down at the end of the bench, still wearing their sweats, playing the mentally difficult but physically undemanding role of benchwarmer.
It is a challenge for them to accept such a role and an equally difficult challenge for their coach, Bob Huggins, to get them to accept it and remain ready for the a moment such as what occurred during the Big East Tournament when they were needed.
“I just tell them the story about Jay Jacobs,” Huggins revealed, referring to the long-age WVU reserve player from Morgantown, Jay Jacobs, a teammate of Jerry West’s and now the color analyst on games in which his son, Jonnie, plays.
The way Jacobs tells his story, he was sitting in his normal spot on the bench one day when coach Fred Schaus came down and said, “Jacobs, get in there.”
Jacobs just sat there. You see, under his sweats, he said, he had not bothered putting his uniform on, thinking there was no way he would get into the game.
“You,” Huggins tells is reserves, “could be a jerk, just like Jay Jacobs was.”
The moral to this Huggins fable is that the Boy Scouts have it right – be prepared.
In fact, Huggins knew heading into the Big East Tournament that there would be some tight games, some games where he would need a shot just before the halftime or final buzzer, a time when Da’Sean Butler actually couldn’t get the ball or get a shot off.
“I talked to them before the tournament,” Huggins said. “I asked them, ‘Are you ready?’ They were.”
Indeed, against Cincinnati in a game won by Butler on a last-second 3 to beat the buzzer, providing the 3-point differential, the box score shows young West playing 0+
minutes, which is a way of saying he barely got off the bench.
Except for two things. It also shows three points, which by my math was the difference in a 54-51 game, for he went in cold before the half and drilled a 3-point shot, then actually on the game winning play helped draw people away from Butler in the closing seconds.
Mitchell, at the same time, came off the bench to score two points in that game and then, in the final against Georgetown when Huggins and Co. needed an injection of offense, Mitchell was there to deliver five points in five minutes on a 3 and a pair of clutch free throws.
The truth is that each carries with him an interesting story, West through his bloodlines and Mitchell via being the National Junior College Player of the Year last year at Chipola who was brought in to add instant offense and took only four months to deliver it.
West recalls Huggins pulling him aside and telling him to be ready. “I might need you for a three,” West remembers the coach saying.
He also remembers his answer.
“OK,” he said. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Like his Daddy, he isn’t a man of many words.
The truth of the matter is that for all Jerry West did for West Virginia, he didn’t hit many bigger shots than did West on that day, for it balanced off a three on the other end and gave WVU a tremendous lift heading into the locker room.
West admits that he did talk to his famous father after the game, but Jerry West has this thing with his kid where he acts as though he didn’t pay any attention to the game, almost so as to keep young Jonnie’s feet on the ground and to make him play harder and harder to get his attention.
So it was that after hitting this shot and helping WVU win, Jerry West asked his son, “Did you get in?”
And Jonnie West told his father, quite matter-of-factly, “Yeah, I hit a shot at the buzzer at halftime.”
But he knew that his father knew, that he’d probably talked to his former teammate Willie Akers, gotten the low-down, even if he had missed the game.
Coming in cold, though, is an art.
“Everyone jokes with me about going in and making a shot. They say, ‘How in hell do you do that?’” West said.
The answer, Huggins says, is because he and Mitchell are challenged every day in practice, pushed into those situations over and over until, well, if they screw up in the game they at least know they won’t be on the treadmill like they are in practice.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.