Gansey Exceeded Modest Goals At WVU
When Mike Gansey made the decision to transfer from St. Bonaventure, his only thought was to try to find a school that had a shot to participate in the NCAA Tournament.
“That was my dream in high school, just to play on a team that got to the tournament,” said Gansey, who was elected to the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in May. “I wasn’t even thinking about starting or playing a lot. I just wanted to be on a team that got to the tournament, so I could experience that.”
Suffice it to say that Gansey far surpassed that goal at West Virginia. Providing the final piece to a group of players that rebuilt the Mountaineer program from the ashes of an 8-20 season, he helped lead WVU to both the 2005 NCAA Elite Eight and the 2006 NCAA Sweet 16. Along the way, he built a resume that could not be ignored in terms of Hall of Fame consideration.
“Our team chemistry was so good, and it was the strongest thing we had going for us,” Gansey recalled from Oakland, where his Cleveland Cavaliers are participating in the NBA Finals. “Those guys were so much fun to be around, and we we because we had all five guys on the floor participating as a unit. We were the smartest team out thee, and we won a lot of games because we knew how to play and we played so well together.”
Those teams included a number of players who have gone on to coaching careers, or, as Gansey, moved into the administrative side of the game. Gansey has served as the assistant general manager for the Cavaliers since July 2017, and was previously the general manager for the Canton Charge, the Cavaliers’ G League team, where he earned the 2016-17 NBA G League Executive of the Year award. That followed a five-year professional stint in Europe and in the G League. Teammates Darris Nichols, Rob Summers and Patrick Beilein are all in the coaching profession.
“I still stay in touch with all of those guys, and we text and message a lot,” said Gansey, who never thought about a potential Hall of Fame career when it came time to play at WVU. “They welcomed me in, and we worked so well together.”
In 2006, Gansey was named to the All-Big East First Team and was tabbed to the Big East All-Tournament Team in 2005. He was a two-time selection to the Big East Academic All-Star Team. In 2006, Gansey was a finalist for the Oscar Robertson Award, the John R. Wooden Award and the Naismith Trophy.
Gansey was something of a throwback player at first look — a 6-4 swingman who performed well across the board. He lead the team in scoring, rebounding and steals in both of his seasons on the court, and performed well under pressure. That last included a pair of tree throws with two seconds left against Villanova to earn a dramatic 78-76 win over the Wildcats in the 2005 Big East semifinals. That might stand out as the highlight of a career for most players, but just a week later he was the leading scorer in the Mountaineers’ epic 11-105 double overtime win over Wake Forest in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That contest was played in Cleveland, near his hometown of Olmstead Falls, Ohio.
“That game, being in my hometown, and so many friends and family there, it was the most memorable,” he confirmed. “[Wake Forest stars] Chris Paul and Erik Williams were killing us in the first half, and we were down 13 points at the half. Coach Beilein was great in the locker room, and we didn’t flinch. I remember thinking ‘I can’t go out like this’, and we came back. It was such a great game, going into the overtimes. It was wild.”
Gansey outdueled the Demon Deacon stars, scoring a game-high 29 points while playing 44 of the 50 possible minutes. He snared seven rebounds and had two assists and a steal in what is one of West Virginia’s top two NCAA performances in history, and set a standard for the type of player that can excel in many different areas of the game.
“I do think that all-around play is getting lost some in the college game, but there are players still out there that can do that,” he said of performers like himself. “Look at Villanova, that won the national championship. They have a lot of guys who fill specific roles, and they were great.”
Gansey was an excellent leaper who rebounded like a player four or five inches taller, and used his acrobatic skills to get shots away over taller defenders in the lane. He analyzed the game well (which helps explain his quick rise in Cleveland’s front office ranks) and meshed impeccably with his teammates, who he is quick to credit for the success that the team enjoyed during his two seasons on the court. Still, he recognizes the qualities that helped him go much further than just a token NCAA appearance.
“I got the most out of my ability,” he said. “If you have a motor and toughness, there’s a place for you in this game.”
And, it should be noted, in the Hall of Fame as well.