MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Throughout his tenure at WVU, men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins has left an open invitation to his former players: come back whenever you want.
Mountaineers who become professional athletes regularly take him up on the offer. Some of them train at the team’s practice facility during the offseason and hang out in the alumni locker room.
In a sense, Huggins has created a brotherhood of basketball alumni, which itself sparked the creation of Best Virginia, the WVU alumni team that will compete in Charleston later this month during The Basketball Tournament’s West Virginia Regional.
Several teams in the West Virginia Regional are alumni-led, including Best Virginia’s first round opponent, but those teams have allowed players from other colleges and backgrounds to join their ranks. Best Virginia remains exclusive to former Mountaineers.
“We’ve had guys reach out that want to play for Best Virginia,” said head coach James Long, a Charleston native who played for WVU until 2017 before becoming the program’s video coordinator. “There have been thoughts at times — ‘should we maybe add this guy or this guy’ — but it’s never been anything with any traction. We all take pride in being the only alumni team, and we want to show that we can perform in The Basketball Tournament.”
Long, who recently wrapped up his second season as the head coach of WVU Tech, thinks that tight alumni connection could give Best Virginia an edge when TBT competition begins July 17 in his hometown.
“In a tournament like this, being win or go home and being such good basketball players, it’s really marginal the competitive advantage that you’re gonna have when you win some of these games,” Long said. “I think one of the competitive advantages we have is the togetherness and overall competitiveness and cohesion. So, I think being the only alumni team and sticking to it is gonna help us win some games.”
Morgantown native Nathan Adrian agrees — he and his teammates relish the opportunity to play games that matter in the Mountain State once again.
“We all have something in common,” Adrian said. “I think we’re all playing for the same kind of thing — we played for West Virginia in college, and we’re still kind of doing it now.”
But even though each player shares that common title of WVU hoops alumnus, there’s still a clear hierarchy within the team. Some players, like Alex Ruoff and Kevin Jones, are seasoned professional veterans. Meanwhile, fellow Best Virginia competitors Chase Harler and Logan Routt just wrapped up their first seasons of pro ball in Europe.
Just like a senior might coach up a freshman at WVU, those veterans continue to teach younger players who want to continue to refine their games.
“I’m just trying to be a sponge for all these older guys and vets, because they’ve had so many experiences,” Routt said.
He added: “Anything you need, anything someone else needs, everybody is there for you.”
That’s what a brotherhood is all about. While Long hopes the team’s exclusive nature will give it an advantage, he won’t know if that’s the case until the single-elimination tournament begins.
But there will be no doubts about Best Virginia’s togetherness.
“There’s no hero, there’s no superstar, there’s no worst player,” Routt said. “Everybody is a team.”