The Times West Virginian

January 8, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: No time to celebrate for WVU

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — The thing about playing in the Big East is the echoes that you hear all the time.

Week after week, game after game, it’s the same thing.

You play one team, a good team, maybe a great team, and as soon as you get through with them you hear the echoes of what was being said a week earlier, a game earlier.

“Out of the frying pan, into the fire,” the words ring out.

West Virginia University is hearing them again today. Not an hour had passed since they had upset the nation’s No. 9 team, Georgetown, in the Coliseum, putting to end an 11-game Hoya winning streak and handing them their only loss other than one to Kansas in Maui early in the season.

The celebration was short, though, for they were out of the frying pan, into the fire, so to speak.

After a Sunday practice, they were headed to Connecticut to face the Huskies, ranked eighth in the nation and primed for a big game at home as their coach, Jim Calhoun, rejoins them after sitting out a three-game suspension for seeing no evil, hearing no evil and speaking no evil.

For West Virginia it is a key moment in the season, one very much reminiscent of a moment two years back when they went to Harford, the team staggering at the moment. They came into Hartford having lost two of their last four games and played just a miserable game against the Huskies, losing 73-62, but it wasn’t really close.

They were down 9 at the half and Da’Sean Butler, the star of the team, had staggered in 2-for-10 shooting and in points.

Bob Huggins met with his team.

This is not unusual. Huggins gives a lot of talks to his players.

“I think he makes them up on the spot,” Kevin Jones said Saturday after stinging Georgetown.

This one, though, Huggins knew was special.

“It was the Gettysburg Address of West Virginia,” he joked.

Jones remembers it well.

“It was definitely a special and pivotal moment, although we didn’t know it at the time,” Jones said.

They may not have known it, but Huggins did.

“I thought it was important they hear it and understand,” Huggins said.

Hear and understand what?

“That it’s not about them and it’s not about me,” he answered. “This is a special place. When you put West Virginia on your chest — it’s like Sen. Manchin said, when you put West Virginia on your chest you represent us. You represent the people in the state.

“It’s not like a lot of places where you really don’t (represent the people). Here you do. I think probably more than any group ever they really bought into that.”

For whatever reason, the Mountaineers of that team were reborn. They went out and muscled their way through the rest of the Big East season, through the Big East Tournament and into the NCAAs, fighting and clawing all the way to the Final Four with a 10-game winning streak before losing to Duke.

They did it with a number of miracle victories, of heroics from everywhere but nowhere more than Da’Sean Butler, and the reason may have been because Butler bought into Huggins’ message that day more than anyone else.

“I’ve told the story many times after winning the Big East championship,” Huggins said. “If you remember, they were calling us the Metro-eers because we had five starters from the New York metropolitan area.”

He was referring to Butler from Newark, N.J., Bryant and Devin Ebanks from Brooklyn, N.Y., Jones from Mount Vernon, N.Y., and Wellington Smith from Somerset, N.J.

Huggins recalled a reporter asking Butler if it didn’t make him feel good to win the title for the metropolitan area.

“We didn’t win this for the metropolitan area. We won this for West Virginia ... for our fellow students, for the university and the great people of the state of West Virginia,” Butler answered.

Huggins heard him say that.

“I’m sitting there, thinking, ‘Wow.’ That’s something,” he remembers.

Now they are in a similar position, heading to Connecticut, ready to face a ranked team with an underdog team that doesn’t yet really understand about West Virginia and the school and the people.

Perhaps it is time to dust off the story again for old-time sakes, to wake the memories in Jones and Bryant and to indoctrinate this new group of freshmen into the reasons why playing at West Virginia is special in its own way.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.