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:
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.
1. The last most of us saw Memphis freshman point guard Darius Washington, he was crouching in agony at the free-throw line at the end of the Tigers' 75-74 Conference USA final loss to Louisville. Moments earlier, Washington, a 73-percent free-throw shooter on the season, had stepped up to the line with Memphis trailing the Cardinals 75-73 to shoot a trio of free throws. Washington swished the first, but clanged the last two.
It's funny: the diameter of the rim is double that of the basketball, but it never seems that way when you're shooting foul shots in the final seconds of a close game.
Three weeks later, Louisville is headed to the Final Four while Memphis is in New York to play in the NIT semifinal (the Cards never needed to win the C-USA final to qualify for the Big Dance; the Tigers did). And Washington? He has buried 18-of-20 free throws (90 percent), including 12-of-13 in a quarterfinal win against Vanderbilt last week.
Washington -- who recalls making 30 free throws in a row once when he was 15 -- hasn't given much thought to how far Louisville, a team that he was two fouls shots away from upending in early March.
"We're in a different tourney," says Washington. "We can't worry about them."
2. Speaking of missed free throws and Washington, did anyone have a less enjoyable two minutes in the NCAA tournament than Washington's Bobby Jones? Early in the Huskies' Sweet 16 loss to Louisville last Thursday, Jones was fouled as he attempted a 3-point shot. He missed all three free throws (looking mighty uncomfortable) and then as he hustled upcourt to play defense after the third miss, he ran full speed into a Cardinal player setting a screen at midcourt. After that sequence, Jones just looked as if he needed a hug.
3. The other day, I was so bored that I went onto IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base), typed in Quest for Fire, and then hit the link for "memorable quotes".
4. My all-NCAA Tourney Shameless Huckster Team:
David Spade: The definitive "Nos" job.
Darius Rucker, a.k.a., Hootie: I don't know if I'll ever be able to listen to Cracked Rear View again. Then again, I haven't since 1995.
Mike Krzyzewski: On an unrelated note, I'm guessing that the Blue Devils' Reggie Love is not the same one who shielded Brad Renfro from Tommy Lee Jones (he makes it into the blog again!) in The Client.
Dennis Haysbert: From the empty seats of that arena he finds himself in, I'm guessing it's a women's NCAA tourney game.
Lauren Miller: The cute med student, who's a former NCAA athlete, should hire an agent and angle for a role on Scrubs.
5. Reason No. 5,486 Why I Love College Athletics: During the recent ECAC hockey tournament semifinals, Cornell defeated Vermont in the opener. In the later game, Colgate and Harvard went into a second overtime, at which point Big Red fans began chanting, "Our team's sleeping!" (Thanks to SIOC stringer Matt Janiga for that one).
6. Denver may want to make room for another Dynasty beside the Carringtons and the John Elway-era. I'm talking about the University of Denver. The tiny school from the Mile High City is on the verge of winning its third NCAA national championship in the past 12 months (give or take a week or so). Earlier this month, DU won its 18th NCAA Skiing national title in Stowe, Vt., with men's cross-country skier Rene Reisshauer capturing the 20K freestyle. Next week in Columbus, Ohio, the Pioneer men's hockey team will attempt to defend the national title it won last year against Maine. In that contest the Pioneers, playing two men down (because of penalties) in the final 94 seconds, held off the Black Bears for a 1-0 victory.
With only 4,432 undergrads, DU is comparable in size to the larger Denver-area high schools. Yet the Pioneers, should they win, will match Southern Cal and UCLA for the most D-I national titles since mid-March of 2004. Further, the hockey team sold out all 20 home games this season at Magness Arena, which seats 6,026.
7. Reason No. 8,134: Each Kansas State baseball player was invited to pick their favorite tune to play as they approached the plate this season. Wildcat infielder Eli Rumler missed the deadline, or forgot, about this invitation. His teammates selected a song for him: Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On from Titanic. Earlier this month, Rumler homered against St. Francis and as he rounded the bases you could hear "Near, far, wherever you are...." blaring on the loudspeakers. (Thanks to Deb Wallevand, our stringer at K-State).
8. And finally: So the other night, I'm watching Lost Boys for the first time since it was released in the late 1980s. There's a scene where the mom, played by Dianne Wiest, enters young teen Corey Haim's bedroom to say goodnight. And if you look closely, on the closet door in the background, there's a suggestive, sexy poster of then-young beau-hunk Rob Lowe. I don't get it. He's a 13 year-old boy.
Surely he should have gone with a Tom Cruise Top Gun poster.