MORGANTOWN. W.Va.– West Virginia University’s James Long isn’t the flashiest player on the court but he has the drive and determination that makes a winner off the court.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound guard scored a career-high 10 points in the Mountaineers 108-61 win over Manhattan on Monday night and turned the spotlight on to the unlikely hero.
“James Long he’s given so much to our program,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “He gets other guys in the gym and he’s got such a great work ethic so it was great to be able to get him in a little bit in the first half and play as much as he did in the second half.”
Long transferred to WVU from Wofford in the fall of 2013, which may have baffled some.
Why go from being a scholarship player to having to pay for tuition? Why sit on the bench when you could see significant playing time?
Those questions may not be easy to answer for some but for Long it was an easy decision to become a Mountaineer.
“There was no animosity whatsoever,” Long said. “I still stay in touch with a lot of guys from Wofford. They were great people but I grew up here. I’ve been a Mountaineer. I’ve been coming to football games since I was a kid, playing football on Law School Hill. I was in the Coliseum at all kinds of home games. When I was in the driveway and stuff, I was imagining myself at the Coliseum. So when I was leaving Wofford, I just kind of wanted to be a walk-on because I just wanted to experience it and see what a big time program was like. Huggs blessed me with the opportunity to walk on here.”
Despite seeing limited playing time, Long has a role on the WVU basketball team.
“I just always told myself do whatever you can to contribute,” he said. “Like I said off the floor, if that’s taking a younger guy or all of them under my wing, getting people in the gym, watching film, doing whatever. I don’t care about playing. I don’t care about how many points I scored tonight or if I got in. I am going to do what I can to help us win off the floor, whatever, in practice. That’s all I care about is West Virginia winning games.”
That winning sentiment is exactly what the Charleston native exuberates every day and it makes it easy for his teammates to cheer for him both on and off the court.
Long welcomed and encouraged Teyvon Myers last season, which was a challenging season for the newcomer.
“James is like a brother to me,” Myers said. “When I first got here at WVU, conditioning, weights, all that stuff, James was really in my socks. He was really in my socks. ‘Tey, come on you got to get through. Come on Tey’. We talk to each other at night. A lot of stuff. James is not just a teammate to me. I think James will be somebody I call when I am 70. That’s just how I feel about James Long.”
For Long, donning the old gold and blue and playing for Huggins is an honor and something he will never forget.
“It’s crazy because I am playing for West Virginia and my dad was kind of friends with Huggs growing up and he was my favorite coach and the fact that he is here and that I am at West Virginia,” he said. “I have all this in front of my face right now, it’s surreal, you got to pinch yourself. Because I am not kidding, I am a Mountaineer through and through. I don’t have a favorite pro team. Like the people in West Virginia University we love West Virginia University and I am one of those people. And the fact that I am experiencing right now and that I have West Virginia on my chest.”
While the senior walk-on won’t leave Morgantown with an NBA career, he will leave with friendships, memories and values that he couldn’t have learned anywhere else.
Long has learned how to become a better person because of Huggins.
“A couple years ago we went down in the coal mine and you see what this state’s about and it really put things in perspective,” Long said. “Huggs was down there with us. You have to take everything he says seriously because he’s doing it. He’s up all night watching film. He brings it every day to practice. If we don’t bring it at practice, he is. So you can’t say anything to him like you don’t bring it every day. So if there is one thing I’ve learned about Huggs, it’s bring it every day, whatever you do, if it’s your job, anything.
“Because one thing I feel like I’ve got throughout this process is that nothing is going to be hard after this. We work so hard in the weight roman conditioning and basketball, school, everything. He’s preparing me so much to be a man and I can’t thank him enough. I am a walk-on. A lot of people don’t get this opportunity but he’s setting me up for life. He really taught us how to be a man on and off the floor.”
Those life lessons are more important to Long than a free ride at Wofford ever was.
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS