Picking The Top Ten of Modern WVU Hoops
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — They proudly stand on display outside the Coliseum, one on each side of the Blue Gate, statues of West Virginia University’s two greatest basketball players — The Logo and Hot Rod.
Jerry West, who came to represent not only WVU basketball with a collegiate career that ranks up there with the all-time greats such as Oscar Roberts, Bill Walton, Pete Maravich, Bill Russell, Jerry Lucas, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird but to represent the entire NBA as the model for its logo, and Hot Rod Hundley, who proved that basketball can be a fun game to watch, are unquestionably the best.
There are no arguments, no discussions necessary, but as we take a break between the football season and the bowl game and break within the basketball season for final exams, it is time to offer up a few arguments as we offer those who are the greatest since the Golden Age of West Virginia basketball as evidenced by West and Hundley.
We do this because we are in an era where WVU is offering up players who are either in the process of elbowing their way into the Top 10 since West and Hundley or already have done so.
Certainly it’s fair to believe from the Bob Huggins era two players for certain have given us all more than just memories, players who have created moments to themselves and those two would be the recently departed Jevon Carter and Kevin Jones.
As it is with West and Hundley, no one can really argue with the choice of Carter, the only Power 5 player ever to record 1,500 points, 500 assists, 500 rebounds and 300 steals in his career… and that was not the strength of his game.
For while he was a solid offensive player, it was his defense that set him apart, winning consecutive National Defensive Player of the Year Awards while also earning four straight All-Big 12 Defensive Team selections.
And Jones, in the most workman like of fashions, willed himself to become not only one of the greatest scorers in WVU history but also one of the most prolific rebounders.
Jones finished his career in 2012 fifth all-time in scoring with 1,822 points while finishing fourth in rebounding with 1,048. More important, perhaps, because it signifies just how hard he worked all the time, Jones became the top offensive rebounder in school history with 450, 130 more than his closest pursuer.
Not long before that, from the John Beilein era and bleeding into the Huggins era comes Da’Sean Butler, as clutch a player as any player including West. Improving every year after coming to WVU from Newark, N.J., his scoring average going from 10.1 to 12.9 to 17.1 to 17.2 as his all-around game grew with him.
In the end, he finished third in school history in scoring behind West and Hundley with 2,095 points, growing the membership of the 2,000-point club to just three players; finishing 13th in rebounding but 8th in offensive rebounds, sixth in free throws made, fifth in 3-pointers made and 21st all-time in assists.
He put the team on his back in the post-season of his senior year and took it through the Big 12 Tournament to the championship with game-winning shots one after another and led them to the Final Four before blowing out his knee in a semifinal loss to Duke.
There are those who would put Kevin Pittsnogle from the Beilein era in the group and one can’t really argue for the 6-11 West Virginian became a folk hero within the state with his 3-point shooting, the most famous of which was one he hit in the NCAA Tournament in the closing seconds against Texas with cotton shoved up his nose, which had been bloodied seconds earlier.
It seemed to have been a game winning shot until Texas threw down a buzzer-beating long three on top of it to win the game.
It is likely that Mike Gansey, who played only a two-year career after transferring from St. Bonaventure, might have played his way past Pittsnogle’s four-year career as he finished fifth in 3-point percentage at 39.4, averaged the same 14.35 points for his career that Butler averaged and was ninth in steals and 18th in assist/turnover ratio to show how well rounded his game was
And, among the latest generation of players, Damien Owens made a case for himself being Da’Sean Butler before there was a Da’Sean Butler.
Owens finished his career averaging 13.9 points and 7.5 rebounds a game while Butler averaged 14.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. The difference was that Butler was a solid 3-point shooter while Owens was a slasher to the basket, making just 27% of his threes. Butler was a much better free throw shooter with 73.2% to 55.3% for Owens.
But each had that certain something that made all those around them better.
That covers the modern best, players who can be considered along with the tradition group of players who have earned their way into the lore of West Virginia basketball after West and Hundley.
Certainly that group would include Hall of Famer Rod Thorn, Fritz Williams and Wil Robinson at the top, along with Greg Jones, Warren Baker, Steve Berger, Lowes Moore and Darryl Prue.
Time makes us forget just how great many of these players were, but if there one thing that will alert you that greatness is not just something saved for the modern era, consider that Wil Robinson’s scoring over of 24.67 ranks second all-time at WVU, a notch below West’s 24.83 and a notch ahead of Hundley’s 24,49
If you would like a Top 10 since West and Hundley, I think you could start with it this way and argue it out:
1. Rod Thorn, 2. Wil Robinson, 3. Da’Sean Butler, 4. Fritz Williams; 5. Jevon Carter 6. Greg Jones, 7. Kevin Jones, 8. Lowes Moore, 9. Warren Baker and 10. Damien Owens.