Posted by: mseewv | March 25, 2010

Climb That Mountain Baby!

Alrighty, the boys have made the USA Today and what an article it is! I am so ready for tonight’s game. White out baby. Get ready!

Fab Five, WVU style: Butler & Co. look to climb mountain
By Erik Brady, USA TODAY

When the West Virginia Mountaineers break their
huddles, Da’Sean Butler leads them in a simple
chant: “One-two-three — national champs!”

Their mantra is a rhythmic mix of battle cry, naked
ambition and fervent wish.

Today, second-seeded West Virginia plays No. 11
seed Washington in Syracuse, N.Y., in the third
round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. If
the Mountaineers advance, they will be one-two-
three wins from their goal.

The trick will be doing it without point guard Darryl
“Truck” Bryant, who is out of the tournament with a
broken bone in his right foot. Coach Bob Huggins
says he is undecided who’ll start instead.

It could be Joe Mazzulla, who lost his starting role
last season when he hurt his left shoulder. Or it
could be John Flowers, who started in a forward-
dominated lineup four times this season.

“We’re still trying to figure out which is the best
direction to go,” Huggins says.

Mazzulla’s playing time has increased as his
shoulder has improved. He played 24 minutes to
Bryant’s 16 in Sunday’s second-round win against
Missouri. Huggins says he could play as many as
35 minutes today.

“He seems like a guy that their team has a lot of
confidence and faith in,” Washington coach Lorenzo
Romar says.

It is fitting that the season rests in large part on
Mazzulla’s nearly healed shoulder. Butler and
Mazzulla are joined by Wellington Smith, Cam
Thoroughman and Jonnie West as five seniors or
redshirt juniors who arrived in Morgantown in 2006
— and who see this run at a national title as a noble
quest.

They call themselves the Fab Five, though they are
not much like the Michigan stars who made that
name famous in the early 1990s. Four of five of that
highly recruited group eventually played in the NBA.
That won’t happen for as many of this more
modestly recruited quintet.

Butler is a 6-7 senior guard who has famously
converted six last-second game-winners this
season, including two in the Big East tournament.
And like most kids who ever shot a basketball in a
driveway or on a playground, Butler has
daydreamed about making such a shot — clock
running down, ball in the air — to win a national
championship.

“That would be cool,” he says. “That would make my
lifetime. Hopefully I wouldn’t have to pay for
anything for the rest of my life — not in West
Virginia, anyway.”

Butler’s game-winners might already mean a
generation of free tabs in the Mountain State, where
WVU football and basketball are an integral part of
the social fabric in a way that is only possible in a
place where there are no major league teams to
share the fresh mountain air.

West Virginia’s roster is made up almost entirely of
players from elsewhere: four from New York,
including star Devin Ebanks; two each from New
Jersey and Pennsylvania; one each from Rhode
Island, Maryland, Georgia, Tennessee and Ohio; and
as many from Turkey (Deniz Kilicli of Istanbul) as
from West Virginia (Cam Payne of Charleston).

“The governor talked to us before a game, and he
made a great point,” West says. “Once you put a West
Virginia uniform on, you’re a West Virginian for life.”

Once upon a time, half a century ago, when Jerry
West put the West in West Virginia, the Mountaineers
were one win from a national title. They lost to
California in the 1959 title game, 71-70.

“In my family that’s a little bit of a sore spot,” says
West’s son, Jonnie, a reserve guard.

Huggins was born in Morgantown in 1953. He
played for West Virginia in the mid-1970s. And the
day he was hired as coach in 2007, he said he’d
come home to win a national championship.

Huggins has one Final Four to his credit. His 1992
Cincinnati Bearcats lost 76-72 in the semifinals — to
Michigan’s Fab Five.

His 2000 Bearcats were favored to win it all until
national player of the year Kenyon Martin broke his
leg in a loss to St. Louis — then coached by Romar
— in the Conference USA tournament.

Heartfelt camaraderie

Former WVU coach John Beilein recruited a class of
eight in 2006. They were with him for one season
and an NIT title before Beilein left for Michigan.

“We’re the five that survived,” Smith says. “We want to
have that lasting relationship forever.”

Butler and Mazzulla have “Fab Five Forever” tattoos.
Butler’s is on his chest. Mazzulla’s is on his right
wrist.

“We’re all supposed to get them,” Thoroughman
says.

“I don’t think Jerry would be too happy if Jonnie got
a tattoo,” Mazzulla says, laughing.

West Virginia beat No. 15 seed Morgan State and
No. 10 seed Missouri in the first and second rounds
in Buffalo last weekend. Mazzulla tried to explain in
the locker room on the day between the games how
much his fellow Fab Fivers mean to him.

“The camaraderie, that’s something you can’t get
back,” he said. “You’ll always have a ring that will
remind you of the championships. But you won’t
have anything that will remind you of the great
moments you shared.”

It turned out Mazzulla was wrong about that. As Rick
and Ilsa will always have Paris, this Fab Five will
always have Buffalo.

Flowers recorded video that night of Mazzulla,
Butler and West clowning as they whacked each
other with hotel pillows and lip-synced to songs
and snapped their heads to the beat like the
Roxbury Guys in those old skits.

Flowers put three videos on his Twitter page, where
they went viral. The sports blog Deadspin linked to
the videos and said it all looked like “that first
overnight field trip in middle school.”

Mazzulla says the video is something to remember
the good times by.

“We’re family,” Mazzulla says. “The Sweet 16s and the
Big East championship, those all mean something.
But I’ll never forget bus rides and plane rides and
just the great times we’ve had.”

Strong defense

Huggins lived in Morgantown until age 9. He was 5
when the 1959 title game was played. He doesn’t
remember it.

“I could lie to you and tell you I do,” Huggins says,
“but I don’t.”

Win four more games, and Jonnie West’s
Mountaineers can redeem Jerry West’s.

To contend for the title, Huggins says, “We’re going
to have to score the ball a little bit better. But then
people are going to have to score against us, too.”

WVU has held opponents to 60.1 points a game in
29 wins, tied for most wins in program history with
the 1959 team.

Opponents scored nearly 79 in WVU’s six losses.

“Defense is our bread and butter,” Mazzulla says.
“It’s something we can depend on late in game
situations.

“That’s what helps teams get to the Final Four and
win championships.”

Butler leads the team with 17.5 points a game. He
had 28 against Missouri. He has 2,053 career
points, behind only West (2,309) and Rod Hundley
(2,180).

“There was always something special about him
from when he first got here,” Jonnie West says.

Did West really know then that Butler might some
day share a page in the WVU record book with his
father?

“I didn’t know how special,” West says, smiling.

Nothing could be more special than making a run at
the national title, even with “Truck” Bryant’s flat tire.
That’s what the huddle mantra is all about.

Butler says Huggins started it. Huggins thinks Butler
did.

Either way, the slogan is second nature by now,
even if winning a national championship is never as
easy as one, two, three.

LET’S GO BABY….LET’S GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

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Responses

  1. I’m so excited for these boys. It is like a dream come true.


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