Workouts With WVU Alums Beneficial In More Ways Than One
The basketball practice facility at West Virginia hums with activity in the off-season, as a mix of the upcoming year’s team mixes with alumni of the program who are preparing for their professional season. Much of the coverage of that activity has focused on the benefit of those open gyms and pickup games for the members of the 2018-19 squad, and rightly so. Without question, Sagaba Konate gets benefit from banging big shoulders with Kevin Jones. Jordan McCabe, as highlighted in a quick social media clip, sees the intensity coming from Tarik Phillip, a trash-talker extraordinaire who backs it up with ever-increasing quality play. going head-to-head with these pros has to help the games of the collegians.
Beyond that, though, there are more messages being sent and received. First is the one that the NBA is not the only acceptable destination for a professional career. Of course, it remains the ultimate goal, but there are many other pro opportunities out there — ones that have been mined all over the globe by a long list of Mountaineers. The idea of “NBA or Bust” is one that is held by some observers, but it’s quite narrow-minded, not to mention invalid.
West Virginia has a number of former players who have carved out excellent careers for themselves overseas. Marcus Goree, D’Or Fischer, Alex Ruoff, Truck Bryant, Da’Sean Butler, John Flowers, and Gary Browne, just to name a few, have had the twin benefits of getting paid to play and seeing the world while doing so. They’ve gained great life experiences, learned about different cultures, and learned lessons that will help set them up in their post-playing careers.
“I think that is a huge deal. Our current guys see the players coming in who have great careers in Europe or China or Japan or wherever, and they understand there are a wide range of opportunities out there,” assistant coach Ron Everhart said.
Supporting that, too, is the emphasis the the WVU coaching staff puts on education. Everhart takes any opportunity to extol the importance of that side of the student-athlete experience, and of using basketball as the means to get a degree and set a foundation for life after the game. He sees the influence the alums wield with the current players in that regard as one of the unsung benefits of the summer season.
“I think the thing they comment on the most is the fact that all these guys hav their degrees,” Everhart expanded. “At any point in time, god forbid, they have an injury or whatever, they have a degree to fall back on. Most of the kids we have coming back in have done a great job in the community. People would be more than willing to hire these guys because they understand how hard they work and how committed they are.”
Reinforcing that message is the fact that many of the returnees have just been out of college for a few years. They are closer in age to the current squad and might relate to them a bit more easily on some fronts.
“When Kevin Jones or Tarik Phillip talk about how valuable their degree from West Virginia is, it resonates a lot more loudly than when it’s myself or another member of the coaching staff,” said Everhart, smiling at the characterization of himself and the staff as ‘the older guys’. It is a neat deal. From a coaching perspective, we’ve had the older guys, we’ve coached the Jaysean Paiges, the Tarik Phillips, the Jon Holtons. Then they come back and they play in the summer with the current guys, and the new guys get a really good perspective on what West Virginia basketball is all about and the pride they have taken, not only in graduating from here, but in the brand they have put on the program.”