The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

April 7, 2010

Jerry West: ‘The nature of the sport has changed’

MORGANTOWN — College basketball is different today from what it was when Jerry West played in the 1950s.

“The nature of the sport has changed because of the incredible interest in it,” the greatest player in West Virginia University’s history said. “There was interest in basketball then, but not like today.”   

West, in an exclusive interview from his Los Angeles home recently, attributed the changes to greater publicity by the media in newspapers, TV and radio coverage of basketball. A person can listen to or watch a game at almost any time.

For example, West Virginia’s first televised basketball game was not played until Feb. 7, 1959 at the old field house (now Stansbury Hall) against Holy Cross. West led the way to a 96-90 victory in NBC’s Game of the Week.

Lindsey Nelson, then a legendary sports announcer, called the historical play-by-play.

“It was more difficult to see a game in those years,” West remembers. “It also was different in terms of a school getting into the NCAA Tournament.

“You got to go by winning your conference championship, no matter what your season’s record was. So there was a lot of pressure just getting there.”

He also noted there were hardly as many teams in the NCAA Tournament then (32).

What’s more, the retired superstar, coach and NBA administrator finds it interesting to see the way the game is played now.

“It is a different kind of game,” West emphasized. “You see a lot of different things. But almost within a conference, everyone looks alike and plays alike. So it’s kind of interesting watching the changes.”

He pointed out that many successful coaches now have two, three or even four assistants. When he was at WVU, head coach Fred Schaus had George King, the school’s first full-time aide in basketball.

“Obviously, those assistants are there to help, learn and copy the style of the head coach,” West commented. “So eventually you see a lot of similarities because coaches have produced a lot of head coaches.”

Any basketball fan knows that some programs play an up-tempo game because they have athletes that can do that.

Others play a more conservative, grinding type of game because that’s what they believe in. It’s a completely different type of game in West’s view.

Asked whether there’s more emphasis on defense today, he replied:

“There was tremendous influence on defense when I was there. We always played tough defense, but we also could score (a lot of) points. There are so many more opportunities today than there were many years ago.

“Look at the number of shot attempts. Scouting is different today than it was then.”

West believes teams today probably have a better idea of what opposing teams are doing and it makes for a different type of game.

Another major difference is that so many more kids are interested in basketball today and they start earlier.

Whereas at one time youngsters turned to Little League baseball, eventually they shifted to basketball, according to West.

“With kids introduced to basketball competitively at a very early age, they are developing quicker because of more opportunities and bigger, better facilities,” West noted.

“So the game is different as the growth of basketball has gotten so much bigger,” he said. “It has received so much publicity and kids have had more opportunities to get better real quick.

“They’re given a lot of tools at their disposal to get better, and they get exposed to facilities that are a lot better.

 “At one time we didn’t have those advantages. My first experience to the game was in junior high school.”

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