CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When West Virginia University's basketball team was blown out by Kansas State (regardless of the score, it was, indeed, a blowout), Mountaineer fans were probably embarrassed.Again.For WVU's fans, however, it was just another red-faced couple of hours to toss onto the heap. The Mountaineers have provided embarrassment, in one manner or another, in at least seven other games this season: Gonzaga, Davidson, Duquesne, Michigan, Purdue, Oklahoma State and Baylor.It's somewhat stunning because at the beginning of the season, Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins told me, "I think we have a heck of a chance."
He admittedly, though, thought transfer Aaric Murray would be better. Ditto transfer Juwan Staten. He didn't anticipate the third transfer, Matt Humphrey, would have shoulder problems.Huggins figured Jabarie Hinds' field goal percentage would rise instead of fall (from 41.9 percent to 34.5). Ditto Gary Browne (from 43.4 percent to 32.4). He figured Deniz Kilicli would play all season as he has of late - by finishing.However, the lasting image from the Kansas State game was that of freshman Eron Harris, who has been one of the lone bright spots this season.It was an image of him on the bench, caught by television cameras, weeping.It was striking.At first, Harris put his hands on his head. Then you saw it: sobbing.Most males probably thought as I. He's crying? On the bench?
I conjured the image of Tom Hanks playing Jimmy Dugan from "A League of Their Own" and twisted the words. "Are you crying? Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING? There's no crying! THERE'S NO CRYING IN BASKETBALL!"Then it hit me. He was saddled with three fouls. He played but seven first-half minutes. Most players would have simply shrugged that off. But he was crying."He cares," Huggins said on Tuesday. "You're supposed to."Undoubtedly some will mock Harris. With the benefit of hindsight, he probably wishes it didn't happen. But give him this: He owned the moment. Here is his Tweet on the matter:
"I don't show emotions often but when it comes to competition and my brother's [sic], they come out. That game was definitely a learning experience.""He's a great kid," Huggins said. "He's always in the gym. He takes care of business. He's a great teammate."
Harris has plenty of company when it comes to crying and sports. Dick Vermeil has a lasting legacy because he allowed emotions to show. And Eron, if you're reading this, here's a partial list of other athletes who wept on camera: Chris Bosh, Allen Iverson, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Brett Favre, Terrell Owens, Mike Schmidt, Christiano Ronaldo, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Floyd Mayweather and Andy Murray. Oh, and every Olympic gold medal winner.Don't misunderstand. There are rules to crying in sports, and Harris came close to a faux pas.You can cry after a gut-wrenching loss. (See Tim Tebow and the tears streaming after Florida lost the SEC title game.) You can cry when you're injured. (Harris can ask WVU grad assistant Da'Sean Butler about that.) It's even OK to shed tears after a very big victory. (Owen Schmitt after WVU's 2008 Fiesta Bowl victory.)It's not cool, though, to cry while playing. Adam Morrison infamously did so while playing for Gonzaga in the 2006 NCAA tournament. He was crying even though there was still time for the Zags to defeat UCLA. Afterward, a loss, he fell to the floor, pulled his jersey over his head and rolled around.
Also, don't cry just because you're not getting your way. Glen "Big Baby" Davis went to the end of the Boston Celtic bench and cried after Kevin Garnett yelled at him in 2008. As Chris Berman and company would say, come on, man.Harris, though, was not on the court, a la Morrison. He might have taken his emotions onto the court later, when personal and technical fouls took him - and, probably, WVU - out of the game in one swipe. (Huggins, by the way, saw it as a K-State flop.)The bottom line, though, is Harris seemed most upset with himself. He wasn't on the floor and able to help his team. And unlike Davis, an NBA player, Harris is a true freshman who was trying to help a college team on ESPN on Big Monday. One who just turned 19 on Nov. 26.So smile, Eron. If anything, you probably gained fans. WVU followers have been starving to see Mountaineer athletes that care. You obviously do.And I'll let you in on a couple secrets. First, I'm pretty sure I've seen that big scary coach of yours shed a tear or two in the past.And as for me ... a 52-year-old ... hell, I still can't get through the movie "Brian's Song" without bawling.In other words, Eron, you're in very good company.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.