Folk Hero Pittsnogle Keeps Even Keel Upon Hall of Fame Selection
By Kevin Kinder
Had Dan Dakich not imploded and flamed out after one of the shortest coaching stints in history, Kevin Pittsnogle might not be in the West Virginia University Sports Hall of Fame. Heck, he might not even have gone to WVU.
Pittsnogle, who was elected to that exclusive group on Sunday, was playing in Germany with a touring team when he got word that his recruiter, Mountaineer head coach Gale Catlett, was retiring. He got a message from Dakich saying that they would “sit down and talk” upon his return, but by the time he got back Dakich had already fled.
“I remembered thinking, ‘What happened?’, Pittsnogle told BlueGoldNews.com as he reminisced on what was a most unsettled period in Mountaineer basketball. “I got back to town and he was gone, and no one knew what was going on.”
Fortunately, WVU was able to hire John Beilein for its rebuilding task, and Beilein quickly made it clear that he wanted the Martinsburg, W. Va., native.
“He was quick to tell me that he still wanted me, and he laid out his plans for me,” Pittsnogle recounted. “I had watched some video of his teams, and I knew I would fit in well with what he did.”
‘Fitting in’ is an understatement. The six-foot, 11-inch Pittsnogle became a folk hero, known nationally for a last name that no one else shared and a distinctive floor game featuring long distance shooting, a growing number of tattoos and a cult-like following. He averaged 13.3 points over 128 games at WVU, but it was his long distance prowess (253-615, 41.1% 3-point shooting) and his unconventional style that became a sensation.
“It’s all still kind of surreal,” he said of his inclusion in a small circle of players who become beloved Mountaineer icons. “I don’t talk about it much, but it was a crazy experience to live through.”
The attention and adulation came from a couple of different directions, which just brightened the spotlight. First, there was the oddity of a near-seven-footer draining threes. Add to that the quick rebuild process, with Pittsnogle joining Joe Herber, J.D. Collins, Patrick Beilein and, later, transfer Mike Gansey to resuscitate Mountaineer hoops. The rise went from the disastrous 8-20 season of 2002 to memorable NCAA trips and a near-Final Four season in 2005. That brought the fans back, hungry to embrace success, and Pittsnogle was the epicenter.
He’s quick, though, to point out that so much of what he accomplished depended on his teammates. That’s true, as that incoming class in 2003 meshed so well, with each taking on specific roles and blending to become so much greater than the simple sum of their parts.
“I wouldn’t have been anywhere near the player I was without them,” Pittsnogle emphasized more than once. “We played so well together, and those guys were all so talented. Coach Beilein did a great job with us, and he was so important in helping me improve and develop.”
Pittsnogle hasn’t been caught up in reliving his glory days, however. He has turned down interviews over the years, simply because he didn’t think there was much newsworthy to discuss. Of course, that changed with his election to the WVU Hall, but it’s still not something that he focuses on.
“It’s been 11 years since I played, and that seems like a long time,” he said. “I did talk with my son Kwynsie about it once I found out about it, and he was super excited. He’s a basketball guy, and loves the Mountaineers. But I honestly didn’t think it would happen so soon. I figured maybe 20 or 30 years down the road I might get discussed.”
Pittsnogle, who recently earned his master’s degree from WVU, is a special education teacher at his alma mater, Martinsburg High School. Kids “have always been a focal point” for him, so it’s not surprising that he has landed a job where working with them is a priority. At the same time, that job allows him to give plenty attention to his children, which now number six.
“I love kids, and had the opportunity to get back into working with them, but this also lets me have time to be with my own children,” he said. “They keep me busy with youth sports, and I coach some of them in youth leagues, and that’s an important thing for me. I make sure the kids have fun, and that’s the most important thing.”
Pittsnogle is also careful not to push any of them too hard. He doesn’t see the benefit of loading youngsters up for travel teams while they are still in elementary schools, and prefers to let them develop at their own pace.
“Kwynsie says he wants to play for the Mountaineers, but I want him to just have fun at this point. I’m not pushing him to go out and work out every day. When he asks, I will help him when he wants, but I don’t want to push him. I know there will probably be expectations for him just because of his name, and we’ve talked about that a little bit too. I just want him, and all of my children, to have fun with sports and find things they enjoy.”