As March rolls around, many Mountaineers fans reminisce about some of the unbelievable WVU basketball moments shared over the years. There’s a special kind of build-up as it turns from the regular season to the Big XII and NCAA Tournaments. March Madness can be a roller coaster ride of emotions with the twists and turns that are a part of win-or-go-home basketball. As a lifelong Mountaineer, I’ve been lucky enough to witness some truly unforgettable moments - ranging from exhilarating victories to heartbreaking defeats. There’s never a dull moment when you root for the old gold and blue.
I hope this month’s From Down the Hall reminds you of shared moments our student-athletes have created that have become a part of our University’s storied history. Although younger alumni and fans may not recall our days in the Big East Conference, I’m certain many have heard retellings from fellow Mountaineers who witnessed the action firsthand. That’s where I’m going to begin.
I can vividly remember the energy felt by Mountaineer Nation in March 2005. After advancing to our first Big East Tournament final, WVU entered the NCAA Tournament as a #7 seed and went on to upset #2 seed Wake Forest (basketball pundits referred to them as the fifth #1 seed) in a double overtime second round game, unlocking access to the regionals in Albuquerque. Although our team’s run ended valiantly in the round of eight, there were so many opportunities for engagement and connections along the way, from events and activities in Cleveland, to taking a plane load of alumni, friends and fans out west. That team captured the hearts of our fanbase and added a new verb to the lexicon of our language. Who could ever forget the joy of watching someone being “Pittsnogled.” I also learned a valuable lesson during that tournament run about how to pack more strategically, after making department store runs in New York and New Mexico.
It’s impossible to bring up March Madness and not be reminded of the 2009-10 season. One of my cherished moments from that year started before tournament season even began. I road tripped to Philadelphia with family and friends to watch the Mountaineers take on Villanova in the last game of the regular season. It was an anticipated matchup of top ten teams with Villanova giving the Mountaineers more than we wanted in the first half. I specifically remember how the home crowd influenced the first 20 minutes of play. Thankfully, the second half was a different story. The Mountaineers stormed back and forced overtime before winning a nail biter, 68-66.
The Big East Tournament that year was magical, with the Mountaineers earning their first conference championship. I remember the anxiety and sense of accomplishment we felt watching the semifinal and final games go down to the wire. When the final buzzer sounded, after some late game heroics against Georgetown on Saturday night, Country Roads played loudly in Madison Square Garden. I recall talking on the phone with my son that evening, who told me with innocence, he never thought he’d live long enough to see such a thing. He was 11 years old at the time and had no idea what he was about to experience the next several weeks.
When the NCAA Tournament came around, I made trips to Buffalo, Syracuse and the Final Four in Indianapolis. I met many great Mountaineers during this shared experience that remain close friends. There are too many to specifically mention here, but as they say, if you know, you know. With players like Da’Sean Butler, Kevin Jones, Joe Mazzulla, Truck Bryant, Wellington Smith, John Flowers and Devin Ebanks, I was aware we had the opportunity to experience something truly special. So, I decided to hold on to my hotel key from each stop as a keepsake. I proudly refer to them collectively as my own “Road to the Final Four.” I still have them to this day, beginning with the Villanova game and ending at the Final Four. Every now and again, I like to pull them out as a reminder of the incredible moments and friendships made during my personal journey from Philadelphia to Indianapolis. I am still in awe about how that team so positively represented our great University and the entire State of West Virginia. It’s impossible for me to forget Coach Huggins comforting Da’Sean in the semifinal game. In many ways to me, that moment captured the essence of what it means to be a Mountaineer.
In 2020, I also remember the heartbreak and wondering of what could have been when the season ended abruptly during the Big XII Tournament as the COVID-19 pandemic was emerging.
And, it wouldn’t be March if we didn’t also talk about the accomplishments of our women’s basketball team. I recall the 2014 season when the women’s team was a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Although their run was cut short by a heartbreaking loss to LSU, it was a remarkable 30 win season none-the-less. I can also remember the sense of pride in watching our women’s team take the Big XII Tournament championship in 2017, after finishing sixth in the regular season standings. Under the direction of Coach Plitsuweit, our women are the #5 seed in this week’s Big XII Tournament.
Personally, WVU basketball has always been special to me, largely because I’ve had the opportunity to watch my kids grow up around it. Attending WVU home games was a family affair. You could argue the Coliseum was like a second home to my children November through March. Especially if you watched them walk around the concourse like they owned it. I have photos of my now adult son wearing the jerseys of his favorite players and my daughter, who’s a junior in the Chambers College, wearing a WVU cheerleading outfit. WVU cheerleaders were role models to her. They inspired her to be a middle school, high school and competitive cheerleader during her teenage years. My son’s love for WVU basketball continues to this day. He currently resides just outside of Washington, D.C., and this past Saturday, he attended a game watch sponsored by the National Capital Area Chapter of the WVU Alumni Association to cheer for his favorite team with a room full of fellow Mountaineers. My wife and I still take in basketball games when we can. She may not like me sharing this, but Katie brings a book to every basketball game. It’s not because she isn’t interested in what’s happening on the court, she does it because she’s superstitious and believes if things aren’t doing well, pulling it out will bring luck to our beloved Mountaineers.
When all of these moments are brought together, it’s easy to see why WVU basketball has secured a place in the hearts of Mountaineers near and far. The shocking upsets, anticipation-filled tournaments, and countless memories shared with loved ones makes being a WVU alum and fan something very special. What is your favorite WVU basketball moment? We would love for you to share it with us here.
Let’s continue to support these incredible student-athletes as they close out the 2022-23 season. The quest for a Big XII Conference Tournament championship begins later this week as the men square off against Texas Tech on Wednesday, March 8, at 7 p.m. (ET). The women start tournament play against Oklahoma State on Friday, March 10, at noon (ET), after a first round bye.
Let's Go!Kevin Berry ('94, '95)
WVU Vice President of Alumni Relations
CEO of the WVU Alumni Association, Inc.