Leading by Example

  • By Julie Brown
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  • February 18, 2011 11:00 AM
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MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – The 2010-11 West Virginia men’s basketball team has seen its share of ups and downs this season. The loss of star players Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith from last year’s Final Four team, combined with a schedule ranked No. 4 by CollegeRPI.com, has made this season tough from the very beginning.

On the positive side, its instances like these that can show a team exactly what it’s made of. It enables younger players such as Dalton Pepper and Deniz Kilicli to step up and showcase their talent, while allowing a veteran player such as Cam Thoroughman to emerge as a leader and end his career on a high note.

Looking back, Thoroughman attributes solid team chemistry as the reason for how the squad has overcome some of its major obstacles.

“It’s invaluable; you can’t put a value on it,” he stated. “You don’t realize how important it is until you don’t have it. When you have a good team with chemistry and you see everything work together and then you see a team that doesn’t have it, sometimes it really shows. Chemistry is definitely important in anything you do.”

Troubles really began for the team in January. With an encouraging and much needed win over then-No. 8 Purdue at home in mid-January, the Mountaineers were able to extend a crucial mid-season winning streak to four games. With upcoming games against in-state rival Marshall and a struggling USF, confidence in the team was running high.

But things don’t always go as planned, and West Virginia suffered a disappointing 75-71 defeat at the hands of Marshall. The Mountaineers traveled home to the Coliseum, where they would post a 56-46 win over USF, but not without a price. Sophomore forward Danny Jennings left the team during the game, and one day later, senior guard Casey Mitchell was placed on suspension for not conforming to team rules.

“We lost two of our guys that had been with us for almost two years here and that can shake things up a little bit with morale,” Thoroughman explained. “I guess whenever you go through adversity you find the best in people and I think that people responded really well. People that were asked to step up stepped up. That’s all you can keep doing and I think we kept playing hard for each other just because our backs were against the wall.”

Missing two contributing starters, the team prepared to travel to Louisville for their next BIG EAST contest, where they suffered a last second 55-54 defeat. For Thoroughman, that particular defeat marked the turning point in the season for the Mountaineers. Unable to return home for practice because of bad weather conditions, the team found itself stuck on the road.

“We weren’t able to go home, so we had to stay there,” detailed Thoroughman. “We weren’t allowed to practice that day because of NCAA rules but we had to do something or people were just going to sit in their room all day and sulk and that’s the last thing you can do in a situation like that on the road. You can either take it and turn it into a good thing, or you can take it and turn it into a bad thing. I got a number from one of the Louisville coaches and I called him the next day and asked him if we could come over. We went over there and did the drills we usually do in practice and then we went back to the hotel, changed and went to Cincinnati.

“I think you look back on those things and you try to figure out what the turning points are. Maybe that could be one of them. Then again we were just doing business as usual. If we could have had that day for practice at home we would have been doing that anyway. It really wasn’t that big of a deal, but when you look at it like that, it kind of is.”

Now with five games remaining in regular season play, Thoroughman has developed into an all-around leader on the team. Last season he averaged 7.4 minutes per game and scored 35 total points. This season, he’s emerged as a starter and averages 18 minutes per game while scoring 56 total points so far. Yet mere statistics are not what drives Thoroughman.

“I think it goes back to everybody playing hard and playing for each other,” he said modestly. “When you go out there and you give 110 percent you can’t put a value on that. There’s no stat to keep that but it’s so important.”

In addition, the experience he’s gained over the years has helped him understand all aspects of the college game.

“I know how the referees call games; I know what they look for. Experience is another area where you really can’t have a stat. You can’t make up for experience, so I use it to my best advantage out there,” he said. “I can really look at the other teams’ plays and understand where they’re looking to go, where they look to score from, and who they like to get the ball out to.

“I guess it just goes with the whole basketball IQ aspect. It’s one part of the game I do really well in.”

His stellar performance isn’t confined to the court, either. Thoroughman is one of three seniors currently pursuing a master’s degree with a concentration in industrial and labor relations. A BIG EAST Academic All-Star and member of the Athletic Director’s Academic Honor Roll, Thoroughman has been participating in a spring semester human resources internship while maintaining his responsibilities with the basketball team.

“I work for a performance results corporation,” he explained. “There’s a human resources manager and a human resources general staff out there and I just help out with the day-to-day stuff. When new employees come in I help do their paperwork and file all of their information. There are so many laws where you have to have certain benefits. I help keep all of that information in order.”

In the meantime, Cam is trying to keep the Mountaineer season in order with five important games left during the regular season, including Saturday’s sold-out home contest against No. 8 Notre Dame. And even though some people may be writing the team off, he’s not worried about it.

“At this time of the year, most teams are winding down but that just can’t happen. With Coach Huggins and his practices, we’re a lot tougher mentally than other teams and I think that will help a lot. As long as we play harder than other teams and want it more, I think we’ll be effective.”

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