The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

January 31, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - ‘Magnificent Seven’ have saved WVU

MORGANTOWN — It is a story for the ages, really, a story approaching 60 years in age and that lives just as well today as it did back in 1954 and 1960 when it was made into film in two starkly different cultures.

It was filmed first in 1954 by Akira Kurosawa in Japan and named “Seven Samurai” and was an instant classic, some say the greatest Japanese film ever.

Six years later John Sturges remade the film in America, set it not in a Japanese village but in a Mexican village.

His film was named “The Magnificent Seven,” one of the great Westerns of all time.

It is going through a revival today, not at a movie house near you, but at an arena near you where Bob Huggins is directing what best can be termed West Virginia’s own “Magnificent Seven.”

As it was in both films, a village — dare say, much like Morgantown — is being terrorized by bandits until the townspeople send out for a group of Samurai or hired guns to defend the town and all it stands for.

Huggins’ village, of course, is being threatened by the marauders of the Big East, and rather than bringing in the likes of Yul Brynner, James Coburn, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and others, Huggins has imported the likes of Joe Mazzulla, John Flowers, Cam Thoroughman, Kevin Jones, Truck Bryant, Dalton Pepper and Deniz Kilicli.

Seven players who — along with the veteran Jonnie West, who has yet to appear — are charged with saving the day for Huggins, whose roster has been depleted by suspension, injury and betrayal. The season is at stake and their effort is every bit as heroic as any fictional soldiers of fortune the movies can conjure up.

The result has been more inspirational basketball than artistic and the results have not been exactly what they may have wanted. As Huggins pointed out after splitting the two games played since Danny Jennings walked out on the team and Casey Mitchell was suspended, “we planned on winning both games.”

In the Big East, though, when you go on the road for a pair of games, even at full strength, you consider a split a success.

It hasn’t been an artistic success at all, made more from blood and sweat than anything else.

Still, it has been truly marvelous to watch for what you have seen is seven players coming together under duress and working toward a common goal, refusing to give in to greater odds, just as the Magnificent Seven did it.

Perhaps no one symbolizes the sacrifice more than Kevin Jones, the junior out of Mount Vernon, N.Y., who many thought would be this year’s Da’Sean Butler.

For any of a thousand reasons, Jones did not grasp hold of stardom, winding up more as a member of the cast, doing his thing all season without reaching the heights that Butler reached his final year at WVU.

But by being the way he is, he has emerged as hero, for he is not reaching out for any personal glory, only looking toward the ultimate goal, which is a team victory.

On Saturday night in Cincinnati, Jones stood on the doorstep of 1,000 career points, needing just 11 points to become just the school’s 47th 1,000-point scorer.

Cincinnati, however, made a conscious decision to force someone other than Jones to put points on the board. Rather than force the matter, Jones went with the flow, failed to shoot through the early going and let the likes of Mazzula, Flowers and Kilicli do the scoring.

“I trust my teammates,” Jones would say after scoring only eight points in the game, leaving him three shy of 1,000. “If they pay extra attention to me it may be best for the team. I don’t worry about my scoring.”

It is the ultimate team attitude, the kind of thing that allows an undermanned team to pursue whatever strategy is necessary to overcome an opponent’s advantage. If the bandits have more guns, as they did in “The Magnificent Seven,” the tide can be turned by not meeting force head on with force.

What you wind up with Jones grabbing off nine rebounds and not turning the ball over.

What you wind up Mazzulla getting lanes to drive through as defenders follow Jones away from the point of attack or an opponent’s top rebounder is drawn away from the boards.

“It’s like I said when Casey scored six points against Purdue. That gave an opportunity to other people,” Huggins said, referring to the upset of the nation’s No. 8 team while his leading scorer had a tough day.

“I kept telling them I just need seven or eight guys that will do what I ask them to do,” Huggins continued, “seven or eight guys that will come in every day and play hard. We have a hard time scoring. We’ve got to rebound and give ourselves second chances.”

E-mail Bob Hertzel at

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