MORGANTOWN — Before Tuesday night’s West Virginia University basketball win over Virginia, Mountaineer forward Lamont West had been fighting through a shooting slump.
There was his 1-for-8 shooting day against Missouri. There was the 3-for-9 performance against UCF. There was a 3-of-10 outing against Marist.
Yet if you know the back story on West, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound sophomore, you wouldn’t have doubted he’d make it through just fine, thank you — as he did with 22 points against the No. 15 Cavaliers.
Why? Well, just ask him how he landed in Morgantown.
“I was a junior in high school, going to Withrow [High], which is in Cincinnati,” he said. “I didn’t have any scholarship offers, so I transferred schools. I went to a school in Georgia called Georgia Prep and it got shut down.
“So I went to another school in Georgia called Miller Grove.”
“I didn’t get any offers from that school either,” he said.
Yet West persevered.
“Close to graduation,” he explained, “I played in a summer circuit, like a fifth-year-senior type of thing. I started getting offers from different schools and West Virginia gave me a scholarship and asked if I wanted to take a visit. I did and the next day I committed and signed.”
Credit Mountaineer assistant Larry Harrison.
“I was at an AAU tournament in Indianapolis,” said Harrison. “I had a friend that was coaching the AAU team, Team Loaded. I told him what we were looking for. I told him we were looking for a big wing that can score, that can shoot it. He told me they had one. Then he told me he was also from Cincinnati. I said, ‘Cincinnati?’ ”
Bells and whistles started going off in Harrison’s mind. It’s where head coach Bob Huggins made a national name for himself. It’s where he’s most effective in recruiting.
“I went and watched Lamont play and he could really shoot the ball,” Harrison said. “Long, but real young. He looked like he was about 16.”
The assistant said West looked like a young deer, a fawn. Yet in typical West Virginia fashion the coach tracked him.
“We followed him through the summer,” Harrison said. “We knew we needed a big wing that could score. Then being from Cincinnati, we circled the wagons. We got it done.”
It wasn’t as easy as it once was. Initially, West went to Withrow, which also produced former Mountaineer Devin Williams. But soon schools like Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi State, St. John’s, George Mason and Cincinnati were in the mix.
Yet there was that Huggins name.
“Everybody talks about Huggins in Cincinnati, how they miss him,” said the forward.
His friends certainly know where to tune their TVs.
“They always say I look so much bigger now and they like watching me on TV,” West said.
He is bigger now, gaining 25 pounds since signing and, WVU hopes, flourishing. Perhaps some of that is because of his athletic genes. His mother, Tonya Kirk, was a four-year starter for Purdue, who made the Final Four during her career.
West’s challenge, though, has been fitting in the Mountaineers’ “Press Virginia” system.
“This is a good system,” said the sophomore. “It’s a system that focuses on defense, though, and that’s what I’ve struggled with. So this has helped me develop my game.”
It certainly looked polished against Virginia.
“Lamont has gotten better,” Huggins said. “Lamont is getting his shot off quicker. He’s using pump fakes now. He never used to drive by anybody, but now he’s shown the ability to do that. He’s probably our best finisher.”
Also, when struggling he asks for help.
“He came in and said, ‘Will you help me?’ ” Huggins said. “He just wasn’t lifting the ball up. He wasn’t getting through it. I think with a guy like him, when you start missing, you start to press a little bit. You start to aim the ball and not shoot it.”
On Tuesday, though, his aim was true. West hit 7 of 13 field goal attempts, 4 of 9 3-point attempts and all four of his free throws. Add in four rebounds and it’s a very nice day, correct?
“I missed too many shots though,” West said. “I should have hit more.”
West will now look to lift WVU against 5-4 Pittsburgh on Saturday. The game will begin at 8 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.