Former Player John Flowers Continues To Build West Virginia Basketball’s Alumni Weekend
By Matt Keller
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – John Flowers has big plans for West Virginia’s annual alumni basketball game.
From the seed of an idea to bring back former WVU athletes, the gathering has blossomed into a full-fledged weekend which includes a Friday night meet-the-players function and the ever-evolving list of charities which benefit from the proceeds. This time, in its third incarnation, Flowers has taken the July 29 contest on the road, choosing to play it 20 miles south in Fairmont, home to Fairmont State University and new head coach Joe Mazzulla.
A teammate of Flowers on WVU’s 2010 Final Four team, Mazzulla was named FSU’s 12th head coach on March 29, and that relationship – and the desire to hold the event in an arena with a larger capacity than Morgantown High’s 1,500-seat gym – spurred the idea.
“This allows us to get down there and help raise money for those guys,” said Flowers, a former Mountaineer forward who plays professionally for Caracas in the Venezuelan professional basketball league. “We’re donating all the concession sales to their basketball program. I also wanted to build the game bigger and bigger. That gym holds 3,000 and won’t look empty, like the Coliseum would, while moving the game to a bigger venue.”
The event sold out last season, packing the Morgantown High gym to capacity. That was a positive, but created parking and other logistical headaches. Like any good business person, Flowers took the feedback from fan surveys, and looked for solutions to the issue. That’s been a constant for Flowers, who owns JFlow Entertainment and has anchored the game’s operation since its inception in 2015.
“I’m still learning for sure,” Flowers said. “We write all the fans who buy tickets online, and we get great responses. I’m not afraid to try new things. The first year we had an MC and that didn’t really fit the demographic of what we had going on or the West Virginia people. So we switched that up and used a DJ last year. People liked that, so we are bringing that back again.
“We’re seeing what they liked and what worked and didn’t work and making adjustments. We definitely try to make it better and better and make the fans as comfortable as possible. I’m learning as I go. I don’t know how it will be (at Fairmont State) but I’m taking a shot in the dark. In business, you can’t be afraid to try new things.”
One of the slam dunk ideas of Flowers was to hold a “Mountaineer Mixer” the Friday night before the game. The event offers the chance for players to mingle with fans, and for some of the older alumni hesitant to compete in the game to feel more welcome. This year, it will be held at Kegler’s, with $10 tickets available at the door and online at http://www.jflowent.com/home.html.
“We wanted it to become an alumni weekend,” Flowers said. “They come in the day before, we do a welcome back ceremony. Players get up and talk about their experiences and what they are doing now. It’s a loose environment and we can interact with the fans. It gets the players to come back. Some of them seem to think if they can’t play, they can’t attend. We would love for the older guys to come out and be at the game and come to the event on Friday and get the recognition for what they did for the state of West Virginia and their four years at WVU. I’m a big fan of West Virginia University. Not just basketball, but the school.”
And the surrounding community. Like the previous two years, all ticket sales will benefit a local charity or cause. In the first year, it was the Norma Mae Huggins cancer fund, a rather just and obvious fit with the Mountaineers’ head coach Bob Huggins. He started the research endowment in honor of his mother, who passed away in 2003 after a long battle with colon cancer.
Flowers chose to bring attention to a relatively obscure cause last year, when the alumni game generated $8,000 for Conquer Chiari, a group which raises awareness of a serious neurological disorder that affects more than 300,000 people in the United States.
“Few knew about that disease before,” Flowers said. “It helps raise awareness. This is all for a great cause.”
This year, WVU Medicine Children’s is the beneficiary. Thus far, Flowers says former teammates Truck Bryant, Kevin Jones, Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks have committed, along with Jaysean Paige, Tyrone Sally and Herbie Brooks. Former WVU forward Devin Williams will make a much-anticipated return after spending a season playing professionally in Australia, and Juwan Staten has agreed to both play and host a basketball skills camp for players ages 8-18 on July 29-30 in conjunction with the game.
“A lot of us live here in the offseason,” Flowers said. “They’ve made it a home, and that’s what sparked the idea of an alumni game. We might as well do something for the community and something for the fans.”