The Forgotten Players
Earlier this week, Charleston Daily Mail sports editor Jack Bogaczyk wrote an interesting column measuring Kevin Jones' many accomplishments in 2012. Just how thought provoking was it? Well, this is the second spinoff.
Jack very accurately compared KJ's 2012 season to what Rod Thorn achieved in 1963 when he averaged 22.5 points per game and earned second team consensus All-America honors.
A few days later, Bob Hertzel added his twist to the topic by examining West Virginia's best players since Thorn. Hertzel brought up many good points, too, the veteran sports observer ultimately choosing Da'Sean Butler over KJ. And it's really hard to argue with Hertzel's position on that one - Da was always West Virginia's No. 1 option, he hit a bunch of clutch game-winning shots throughout his career, and he always had the ball in his hands when it counted most.
Hertz also goes on to list his post-Thorn Mountaineer all-star team. Again, it's difficult to argue with his choices (you can read them here).
What I thought would be interesting to do was come up with some of the forgotten or unsung Mountaineer players since Thorn - guys who were terrific college players but have since been lost to history for one reason or another.
It's hard to come up with any list of current West Virginia basketball greats without putting Dale Blaney's name on it. Blaney was terrific with the basketball in his hands, adept at going to the rim or shooting it from the outside; he had nice size for an off-guard and he could play defense. Plus, he was tough as nails and perhaps even more importantly, Blaney was an outstanding teammate.
Had Dale been able to handle the NBA lifestyle he would have made the Los Angeles Lakers roster during that franchise's hey days of the mid-1980s – that is how good he was.
I also love what Damian Owens did during his outstanding four-year West Virginia career - three of those playing in the Big East from 1996-98.
Owens was the Big East defensive player of the year as a senior in 1998 after collecting 97 steals and pulling down an average of 6.6 rebounds per game. Damian was awesome prowling the baseline and was also a big-time nemesis out on the wing when the Mountaineers trapped, his long arms and great hands making life miserable for smaller guards.
Of course, Damian's game was near the basket and that's much harder to do at the next level when you're just a shade taller than 6-5.
The success West Virginia had during Owens' senior year in 1998 helped the Mountaineers land 6-foot-9 junior college forward Calvin Bowman. If you go back to the 2001 season and look at Bowman's stats that year you will notice that they are very similar to Jones’ 2012 numbers. Bowman averaged almost 18 points and 10 rebounds per game in 2001, scoring more than 20 points 13 times, including a stretch of six out of eight games right in the heart of West Virginia's Big East schedule.
Bowman dropped a career-high 29 on Connecticut during his junior season in 2000 when the Huskies were coming off their first national title under Jim Calhoun, and he always seemed to play his best against some of the league's top front lines, particularly Georgetown, Syracuse and Villanova. Bowman had a nice mid-range game; he could play above the rim and like KJ, he had a terrific set of hands.
Plus, Bowman didn't quite have the supporting cast Jones or some of the others played with during their careers. Calvin's kryptonite was a lack of upper body strength needed to be able to battle much bigger guys under the basket on a nightly basis. It kind of makes you wonder how productive Bowman would have been developing his body in an advanced strength program like the one Bob Huggins advocates instead of playing at 211 pounds like he did during his college career.
Speaking of undersized guys, nobody in school history got more out of his 6-foot-4-inch, 192-pound frame than Carl Head. Rookie West Virginia coach Bucky Waters discovered Head during the 1965 national junior college tournament, taking him from right under the nose of Wake Forest's Bones McKinney.
Head averaged 20.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game as a senior in 1967 while shooting an impressive 52.9 percent from the floor. Head scored against everybody that season - VMI, The Citadel, Richmond and East Carolina on one end of the spectrum and Illinois, Syracuse, Davidson and Princeton on the other. He had 15 20-point games as a senior and led the Mountaineers to a Southern Conference title and the school's only NCAA tournament appearance under Waters.
Don't forget, too, that Head was one of the first blacks to play in the Southern Conference in the mid-1960s along with Ron "Fritz" Williams, making what those two achieved even more impressive when you consider what that they had to endure.
Yet as good as those guys were, for my money, the one forgotten player who could really get it done on the basketball court was guard Greg Jones. It's hard to imagine Jonesy being unsung or forgotten, particularly to those of us raised on Mountaineer basketball in the early 1980s, but I do think that is beginning to become the case with Jones as the years wear on.
Blaney, Lester Rowe and Darryl Prue may have been more dependable, but no Gale Catlett player possessed more pizzazz and flair on the basketball court than Greg Jones.
He was phenomenal when the games were wide open, his baseline to baseline drives a thing of beauty to watch. Jones had thick legs and a strong upper body that enabled him to finish around the rim; plus, he had great court vision and a knack for coming up with loose balls.
Jones' 22.3 points-per-game average in 1983 is the best by any WVU player since then, and nine times he went for more than 30, including a career-high 38 in a triple-overtime win against Virginia Tech. Amazingly, Jones played most of that game without his front tooth, part of which he lost in Renardo Brown's forehead when he ran into the forward while attempting to get into Catlett’s full-court press defense - a clear example of what a tough player Jones was.
However, Jones' most memorable game was a 32-point performance against top-ranked UNLV in 1983 that included five 3s, prompting a surprised Runnin' Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian to remark afterward, "Jones shot the hell out of it – I didn't know he could shoot like that!"
Jones wasn't a picture perfect shooter (he frequently shot line drives) and he was sometimes careless with the basketball, turning it over eight times against Nolan Richardson's swarming Tulsa press in the 1981 NIT semifinals in New York and committing nine turnovers in a 17-point defeat at Pitt in 1981. However, his exciting "coast to coast" style helped WVU to back-to-back NCAA tournament trips in 1982 and 1983 and he was the one player who really re-ignited interest and enthusiasm in Mountaineer basketball in the early 1980s.
Keep in mind, too, that Jones played before there was a shot clock, which helped make possible those disappointing NCAA tournament losses to Fresno State in 1982 and James Madison in 1983 when both teams opted to hold the ball.
Personal issues kept Jones from having a likely NBA career, although he did play a number of years in the CBA, twice earning all-star honors after being named the CBA rookie of the year in 1984.
Did I miss any?
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West Virginia University Mountaineers, Greg Jones, Kevin Jones, Rod Thorn, Dale Blaney, Carl Head, Calvin Bowman, Damian Owens
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