By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Perhaps it is what has kept him going through a West Virginia basketball career with as many turns as a trip to Pineville down in Wyoming County, but Truck Bryant enjoys being Truck Bryant.
Maybe not quite as much as Hot Rod Hundley enjoyed being himself, and certainly a whole lot more than Jerry West enjoyed being himself, Bryant is happy with what he is, where he is and who he is. Seldom do you see him without a smile; less often do you seem him turn away from a kid who wants an autograph or a fan who wants to pose for a picture.
An hour earlier they may have been booing him at the Coliseum for clanking some 3s they thought he should have made or for driving recklessly into the lane, then getting a shot blocked or thrown away.
He doesn’t care, for he knows and accepts that’s part of being him, too. You want to boo, you pay the money, and honestly he won’t hold it against you because life is far too enjoyable to be lived, be it in Brooklyn where he was brought up or here where he’s been in a school and played basketball without a sniff of scandal, without so much as a parking ticket that has become public knowledge.
Like him as a basketball player, as everyone in the state does today after his heroics in Providence, or hate him, he’ll still wrap that big paw of his around yours when he shakes your hand and, if you spend a couple of minutes to talk to him, he’ll have you calling him friend.
See, it’s days like Bryant’s Sunday that make it wonderful to be him, days where he can score 32 points and play 45 minutes of an overtime game against Providence, a game the Mountaineers would win, 87-84.
Did we mention that of those 32 points, the final three won the game in that overtime period?
Heroics such as that alone, coming as they did to end a three-game WVU losing streak and keep the Mountaineers from looking as if they were positioning themselves for a run at the NIT title rather than the NCAA crown, make being Truck Bryant worthwhile.
But consider that Bryant also made a 3-point shot for West Virginia’s first points, made another for their final points of the first half, raced the length of the floor for a layup that scored the final points in regulation and forced overtime, then hit the 3 to win the game.
Some players can score 32 and not hit an important shot.
Bryant scored 32 and didn’t hit an unimportant shot.
Oh, he was the very human Truck Bryant we had come to know in the first half of the game before becoming the superhuman Truck Bryant who would score 21 second-half points.
“Truck was dreadful in the first half shooting and in the past would have remained that way,” Coach Bob Huggins said.
Indeed, Bryant had come into this game hitting less than a third of field goal tries over the past four games — three of them losses — and less than a quarter of his 3-point shots.
If he was bad in the first half, he was worse in the second.
It reached the point that his critics stopped wondering why Huggins let him continue to shoot at will and began wondering why he was letting him play at all.
Now you know.
See, this was a day when Kevin Jones was off. He wasn’t bad, mind you, considering it was his ninth straight 10-point performance, but this time there were only five rebounds and a whole lot of missed open 3-point shots, to say nothing of a crucial miss up close in the final seconds.
“That was probably the worst game K.J. has played since Mississippi State,” Huggins said, referring to a long forgotten game that occurred last year but could have been last decade.
Jones wasn’t bad enough to sit out so much as minutes of the 45 minutes this game lasted.
Jones’ misfortune gave Deniz Kilicli a chance to step his game up to heights it hadn’t ever reached, scoring a career-high 22 points to go with six rebounds, four of them on the offensive end.
But the reality was this was a senior moment in reverse, one you couldn’t forget, for Bryant was en fuego.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.