MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–The last couple years have been anything but easy for West Virginia University’s Elijah Macon.
Academic issues and injuries sidelined Macon for two seasons. Just when it seemed the 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward would get a chance to shine, the unthinkable happened.
His mother, Renai Payne, lost her battle with cancer at the beginning of last season. Macon’s biggest supporter was gone.
The Columbus, Ohio native had a lot on his plate last season, but Macon is ready to move on and become the basketball player he was always capable of being.
Macon scored a career-high 18 points and grabbed seven boards against the Stetson Hatters on Friday.
“I really just had the flow of the game, honestly,” Macon said. “I came to the shoot around, I felt really good at the shoot around this morning. I haven’t had the best practices the last two practices, but practice isn’t for in the games. But I’ve been feeling pretty good. Tonight I was able to put the ball in the hoop.”
Junior guard Tarik Phillip knows Macon works hard and has the potential to have games like he had against Stetson. He just has to stay strong.
“Once Eli gets going, he can play,” Phillip said. “Anybody can play with him. I think it’s more for Eli its more of a mental part of the game. Just because he overthinks sometimes or he gets upset if he makes a wrong play or something like that or doesn’t make a proper rotation. But he got to know to just to keep playing. We need him. We all know we need him. So we just encourage him to keep playing hard and stay strong.”
Over the summer, Macon took a look in the mirror and decided it was time to get serious. He prayed for guidance and turned to his family for support.
“Well, I prayed a lot, he said. “I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and my family over the summer, just a little bit before I came back to school. I did a lot of things by myself honestly. Just really a lot of self-evaluation things that I did. And I just really took it upon myself to take it serious and lose weight, get myself in shape and really just take this year as another step towards getting better.”
The sophomore forward lost weig tter shape.
“I changed my diet,” he said. “I wa\s running. We did our conditioning over the summer, our workouts. So I really just put in a lot of work from us just working out so much and me changing my diet.”
Without his mother, Macon turned to his grandmother for guidance and support.
“My grandfather played basketball and my uncle so she knows the game,” he said. “She’s been around the game. So she knows how it gets. Especially not having my mom there so she is definitely there to be here for me.”
WVU head coach Bob Huggins has always been there for Macon. The two have known each other since 2009 when the Mountaineers began recruiting the big man.
Huggins notices the effort Macon is putting in on the court.
“Well, Elijah pretty much had two years off,” Huggins said after WVU’s win over Glenville State. “Last year was a hard year for him, and he went through a lot of things early, losing his mother and everything. He’s been much much better, much much better. Elijah just has to get tougher. I think he is really capable of scoring down close, and he ought to be able to rebound. Honestly, better than he does. But he’s in better shape so he is going to be able to play harder. He’s moving better. He’s really trying to get better.”
Macon’s efforts have paid off so far for him this season. WVU will count on him as the team looks to build off of last season’s Sweet 16 run.