Best Virginia Rolls In Beckley, Eyes More Prep For The Basketball Tournament
BECKLEY, W.Va. — Even missing a pair of players, Best Virginia looks as if it could make a run in The Basketball Tournament.
The 11-man roster, temporarily minus Joe Alexander and Tarik Phillip, easily handled a team of collegiate all-stars from Southern West Virginia at the Beckley Raleigh County Convention Center on Thursday night, taking a 118-80 decision in a game played under TBT rules. That included the Elam Ending, which sets a target score at the first clock stoppage under four minutes in the fourth quarter. At that point, eight points are added to the score of the team leading in the game, with the first team reaching that total earning the win. Best Virginia, with four minutes to play, had 110 points, and hit a pair of threes around a two-pointer, the last of which was a 30-foot bomb from Jaysean Paige to earn the victory.
A few thoughts and observations from the game, which was Best Virginia’s first contest together. They will play another on Saturday in Martinsburg before focusing on practices leading up to their first game in the TBT on Friday, July 26 in Richmond against Seven City Royalty, a squad made up around a core of Old Dominion alumni.
Best Virginia’s roster is built to be a versatile one, with bigs Devin Williams and Elijah Macon, athletic forwards in Kevin Jones, Joe Alexander, John Flowers, wings Da’Sean Butler and Nathan Adrian, and guards Juwan Staten, Truck Bryant, Jaysean Page and Tarik Phillip. Many TBT teams are built for more up-and-down play and don’t run a lot through the post, but Best Virginia has that option. It also has enough perimeter and mobile forwards to play uptempo, and to defend effectively once it gets its defensive plans sorted out.
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Thursday’s opponent, the Southern West Virginia Elite, featured three-point shooting almost exclusively, and was able to stay in contact with Best Virginia, something that head coach Jarrod West said should benefit Best Virginia.
“I think we are going to be one of the bigger teams in the tournament, so I think we are going to see a lot of small ball and stretch the three-point line,” West said. “They made probably eight or nine with hands in their faces, but we are trying to do something in two weeks that you usually do in 35 games. The great thing is that these guys are very coachable, and their chemistry is great. They’ve embraced their roles.”
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While the roster is spread across more than a decade’s span (2006-17) at WVU, the fact that all played at least part of their careers under Bob Huggins, using some of the same sets and terminology, should help. That’s certainly a factor for many of the other teams in the TBT, who also share alumni roots for a school, but the tie was noticeable even in this first game together. There were a couple of minutes of pressing, both full- and half-court, as well as a 1-3-1 defense featuring the wily Adrian at the point and Bryant on the baseline. Offensively, familiar sets such as “LA” were also in evidence, although perhaps a bit rusty.
“It’s fun,” said Paige, who opened the game with a pair of 3-pointers before closing it with the long distance splash for the win. “We play against each other every day in the summertime – we’re all in the [WVU practice] facility together. To come out and compete, and to have something to look forward to after, there’s nothing better than that.”
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Scoring should not be a problem for the team, as it has players who can put the ball in the bucket in a variety of ways. Even without Phillip, who is finishing up play in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, and Alexander, who was unavailable for this contest, it was evident that no matter the combination of players on the court, offense should not be a problem.
Again, that’s a feature of a number of TBT teams, but unless there’s a team-wide shooting slump that unexpectedly strikes, it should be able to match scoring with anyone.
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Starting lineups on a team as versatile as this one matter little, but for the record it was Staten, Paige, Butler, Jones and Williams on the floor first in Beckley.
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Although this year’s TBT is still a couple of weeks away, the 2020 version will have even more WVU ties. Morgantown, according to assistant coach Billy Hahn, has been selected as one of eight regional hosts for the event. Hahn, along with West, credited the huge outpouring of support for Best Virginia, as well as the efforts of Huggins, in helping land the slot.
“That’s a lot of credit to Huggs, the program, West Virginia’s fans and they way they travel for the NCAA Tournament, and the buzz we have gotten since we said we were going to be in it,” West said enthusiastically. “West Virginia’s fans will support us.”