You had to feel bad for Ravenswood’s point guard, Hayden Mandrake. He was just trying to dribble the ball across the halfcourt line, as he had done thousands of time before.
But on this trip, he got a face full of Notre Dame’s Jarrod West a few feet in front of him, and he was in trouble. In a sleight of hand, West poked the ball behind Mandrake, scooped it up and scored a routine layup.
Mandrake looked up, seemingly asking for a foul call, or perhaps just a little mercy. That second-half play Saturday helped the Irish hold off the Red Devils 63-55 in the Class A state championship.
That result capped off an extraordinary week for the Irish, and for West. The Marshall signee scored 29 points in that game, a day after he dropped in 35 in a 73-51 rout of Wheeling Central. In the first round against Gilmer County, he settled for 16 points, but had nine rebounds and nine assists.
The week’s stat line: 80 points, 19 rebounds, 19 assists, six steals, 27-of-44 shooting and 8 of 12 from 3-point range and 18 of 25 from the line.
West helped lead the Irish to a 43-21 halftime lead in the championship game. The Red Devils put forth a furious effort in the second half, but couldn’t get closer than seven points.
“I’m going to check his eligibility to make sure he’s a senior, I’m going to tell you that,” Ravenswood coach Mick Price said. “He’s going to Marshall, right?”
West looks like a Dan D’Antoni-era Thundering Herd player. He drove to the rack, he drove the lane and then dished out for the corner 3. He launched 3s from any angle, either off the dribble or as a result of quick ball movement.
You know who me reminded me of, at first glance? Jon Elmore.
West is shorter at 5-foot-10 but with those quick hands, he’s a peskier defender.
“I think he’ll be Jon’s best friend, because the things Jon loves and likes, he can let him do the dirty work,” said West’s coach, also named Jarrod West. “I think they’ll complement each well — both can be off the ball.
“[The younger West’s] AAU team was kind of similar to what Marshall plays, so he can play off the ball, he can catch and shoot. We watched [Marshall] in several games, and it really doesn’t matter who has the ball as long as you can make a play.”
So the big question surrounding the younger West: He ran roughshod over Class A competition, but can he make the jump to Conference USA basketball in a matter of months?
I know a few coaches who think so. D’Antoni and assistant coach Mark Cline, a constant presence at the tournament this week, has no doubt. Ditto for the elder West, a West Virginia legend for his banked 3-pointer that sank Bob Huggins’ Cincinnati team in the 1998 NCAA second round.
“He’s ready to come in and compete, be a leader on the floor, be the head of the defense, run a team,” the elder West said. “He’s very coachable, he’s capable of scoring if you need to score, he’s capable of facilitating, he’s ready. He’s strong enough to defend and compete, he rebounds well for the position.
“I think once he gets acclimated to practice, getting used to the system, I don’t think he’ll have any problems adjusting at all. Obviously, he’s going to learn, but he’s ready to compete at that level.”
Note the “head of the defense” comment. In the Ravenswood game he not only harassed Mandrake, he later mixed it up with 6-foot-7 Riley Heatherington. Despite the apparent mismatch, West made a huge defensive play, knocking the ball away from Heatherington after the lead was cut to 58-51.
Jaret Mullooly picked up the ball, got fouled with 50 seconds left, and make two free throws to snuff the rally.
Cline and D’Antoni were at the end media table Saturday, with D’Antoni breaking into a wide grin at times. They have seen a number of Notre Dame games before and since West’s signing, watching him at his best and not-so-best.
D’Antoni has stated that he feels this upcoming recruiting class will be his best from the standpoint of being ready to play immediately — Darius George, Tanner Robinette, Iran Bennett (if eligible) and West.
With his bulldog mentality and the way he carries himself, West just might be ready for D’Antoni’s rotation by next season. I know one thing for sure: He is ready to get started.
“It’s really fun, definitely, especially when they’re really hot,” he said his the MU system. “You can’t do anything but smile and get excited. Louisiana Tech [C-USA semifinals], they were on fire. I’m like, ‘Dang! Man, let’s go!’”
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I guess it’s a rite of March — coaches complaining about the state basketball tournament qualifying format. George Washington’s Rick Greene called the current system “broken” after the Patriots knocked out South Charleston and Beckley in a “group of death” region.
Price, one of the lead architects of the blessed change from the eight-region format, stands by his original idea of taking the 16 sectional champions and runners-up and seeding them for eight qualifying games statewide, regardless of region. Today’s format is two co-final games in each of four regions.
“I’m a basketball purist,” Price said. “I think when people come to this [state tournament], they want to see the best eight teams. One vs. eight is a pretty good matchup, right? Not everybody thinks like that.
“There are some people tickled to death to come to the state tournament and get beat by 50 and wear a shirt that says, ‘State Tournament, 2017.’ We don’t want to see that, the fans don’t want to see that.
“Maybe some day they’ll revisit it and do it 1-through-16. I know there’s some travel involved, but they do it in football. … You’re geographically punished — South Charleston, GW, Capital in a section? That’s three of the best teams in the state. What if they were 1-2-3 in the state, and they had to play 16, 15, 14? Why punish them for where they’re located?”
I see his point, but I am happy with the way things are. Now, if you want to talk about cutting the classifications from three to two, you have my full attention.