West Virginia provided plenty of mementos this March
Posted: Wednesday March 30, 2005 6:33PM; Updated: Wednesday March 30, 2005 7:44PM
Kevin Pittsnogle, who doesn't know his nationality, is the only West Virginia native on the Mountaineers.
On Wednesday, March 9th, I phoned my old friend Shelley Poe, the sports information director at West Virginia, and told her that the SI On Campus road trip crew was hoping to stop through Morgantown the following Monday. We needed to kill a day between Selection Sunday and the play-in game in Dayton, and I thought that West Virginia might be fun.
"We'd love to see you," said Poe, "but I'm not sure if that's going to be worth your time. I don't think we're getting in."
But those were darker days, the pre-Pittsnogle period of college hoops. Like most everyone else, I fell in love with West Virginia the past few weeks. I woke up three days after my conversation with Poe and the back page of the New York Post had just one word: "PITTSNOGLED!"
The Mountaineers had won three consecutive games to make not only the finals of the Big East tourney (they lost to Syracuse), but in essence, punched their tickets for the NCAAs.
The ride ended on Saturday in Albuquerque, but I won't soon forget it. One man's scrapbook of Mountaineer Moments:
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Monday, March 14: The SIOC crew does in fact invade Morgantown (Which ranks up there with Ithaca, N.Y., on the list of hilliest college towns) and finds the Mountaineer basketball team chowing down at Texas Roadhouse. It's located on Jerry West Boulevard, by the way. The team poses for a picture and I meet the 6-foot-11 tattoo-tattered Kevin Pittsnogle, and ask him the question that has been on my mind for three days:
"What nationality are you? I mean, with a name like Pittsnogle?"
Pittsnogle tells me that he doesn't know, that Pittsnogles have been living in his hometown of Martinsburg, W. Va., (Pittsnogle is the only West Virginia native on the squad) for as long as he can remember. "My father was a Pittsnogle, and my grandfather, and my great, great grandfather lived in Martinsburg," Pittsnogle said.
Wednesday, March 17: Before West Virginia's first-round NCAA game against Creighton, Mountaineer coach John Beilein jokes that veteran Morgantown sports writer Mickey Furfari was the only other person who had witnessed the last meeting between WVU and the Bluejays. The year was 1932. After the press conference, Furfari approaches Beilein and informed him that he actually did attend the game. He snuck into the game as a 9-year-old boy.
And the lesson in that tale? Choose a career in sports writing and you'll still be working when you're 82.
Saturday, March 19: The double-overtime victory over Wake Forest, in which Mike Gansey scores 19 of his 29 points in overtime. And who is that West Virginia center? D'or Fischer? D'or? I love Fischer because he has one of those NBA physiques circa 1976, before big men discovered weightlifting. Still, he gets the job done.
Monday, March 21: According to our West Virginia stringer, Gansey walks into class and his peers give him a standing ovation. Cool.
Thursday, March 24: West Virginia survives a close call against Texas Tech and Bob Knight. Even the General is on the bandwagon (and West Virginia is the type of place where bandwagons are not metaphorical), praising the Mountaineers for "playing the game the way it's supposed to be played."
My favorite moment of tonight comes in the postgame. After Gansey, Pittsnogle and Patrick Beilein, the coach's son, field questions in the press conference, they depart from the podium. Coach Beilein steps up to the mic, and the mediator calls on a female reporter in the back of the room who has her hand up.
"Question from the back," the mediator says.
"No," smiles Beilein, "that's my wife. I think she's waving to our son."
Saturday, March 26: Well, there's a reason they say, "Almost heaven." Louisville stages a remarkable comeback from 20 points down in the first half, and wins in overtime. But I'm not sad. The Mountaineers gave us all a good ride. Best of all, Pittsnogle, Gansey and Patrick Beilein (but not my man D'or) will all be back next year.