HUNTINGTON – For every young basketball player in the state of West Virginia, there are dreams of one day playing on the NBA stage.
Several former standouts from within the state got that opportunity Sunday as part of the Cleveland Classic.
Of the four teams involved, three featured West Virginia-born players who got to take the floor at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Marshall junior guard Jarrod West, who finished with 22 points in an 83-61 win over Duquesne, said the opportunity allowed in-state players to showcase their talent, which everyone took advantage of.
“I’m happy for everybody,” West said following the conclusion of the event. “That’s good for our state and good for everybody to let them know that we can still play and get a little bit of recognition that we deserve.”
West’s 22-point effort led to him being named the Conference USA Player of the Week on Monday, the first such honor of his career. He joined teammate Goran Miladinovic who was named Freshman of the Week as Marshall swept the league’s awards.
For West, the event’s magnitude wasn’t just about himself or even his team. As an in-state player, he knows that opportunities on the highest level aren’t always readily available for those from West Virginia so to have a four-team event in which three of those teams feature in-state players prominently in their rotation, it was a special day.
“I thought it was a great atmosphere today and a great day for West Virginia guards, really,” West said.
In the Herd’s matchup with the Dukes, West was frequently matched up with Duquesne’s Tavian Dunn-Martin, who starred at Huntington High School and led the Highlanders to the peak of Class AAA during his time there.
From the opening tip, the two battled hard to establish early control. Dunn-Martin picked up a pair of quick fouls early in the game, which hindered his ability to get going early, but connected on a 3-pointer as Duquesne made a second-half run to climb back in before the Thundering Herd slammed the door.
One second-half exchange featured Dunn-Martin and West going to the floor after a loose ball in the backcourt with the ball eventually going out of bounds to the Dukes. The play exemplified the grit and tenacity which has placed both – undersized, by normal standards – at basketball’s highest collegiate level.
“We were matched up a lot and he was guarding me from the jump,” West said. “That’s one thing I noticed quickly.”
Prior to their matchup, both West and Dunn-Martin watched as two fellow in-state guards played big roles in then-No. 22 West Virginia’s 67-59 upset of No. 2 Ohio State. Those guards were WVU’s Chase Harler, who stood out at Wheeling Central, and Brandon Knapper, who was a South Charleston product.
Harler finished with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting while Knapper had five points to help the Mountaineers to the win, which boosted them to No. 16 in this week’s Associated Press poll.
West said seeing those guards threw it back to a time when he battled Harler to fight for supremacy in Class A. It also brought up memories of when Knapper and Dunn-Martin put on a scoring exhibition with each over 40 points during one of many Huntington-South Charleston battles at South Charleston Community Center.
The venue was certainly different on Sunday, having served as the home of LeBron James for years, but the results were the same for the talented West Virginia-born players. In that sense, Sunday was fitting with all but Dunn-Martin seen as underdogs in their respective matchups. Still, they found ways to get the job done, which is a bit prophetic of their Division I careers in itself.
West said it felt like Division I basketball at its highest form.
“It felt like an NCAA tournament,” West said. “Neutral venue, game before you is packed. It’s hostile, great environment and you come out against another great opponent. And it’s another blessing to come out here and play in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ arena – not a lot of people can say they do that – and come out with a win. We’re very grateful and blessed to come out here and have fun, showing what we can do. I was happy for everybody.”