By now you’ve heard plenty about two-thirds of the senior class graduating from West Virginia's basketball program this year.
Jaysean Paige and Jonathan Holton have gotten plenty of playing time and press to boot, and deservingly so considering the major contributions they’ve made to Mountaineer basketball during their time in Morgantown.
But there is one under-the-radar member of the senior class who has contributed just as much in terms of blood, sweat and tears to make his team better: Richard Romeo.
In fact, unlike Holton and Paige, Romeo has been in the program all four years. So the case could be made that he’s actually put in more work than anyone else currently sporting the Old Gold and Blue.
During Romeo’s freshman year, West Virginia had one of its worst seasons in recent memory, limping to a 13-19 finish in its first season in the Big 12. Every year since then the Mountaineers have improved, however, which is something Romeo says he is proud of when he reflects on his time in the program.
“I’ve experienced a lot I’d say; a lot of ups and a lot of downs. We’ve gotten nothing but better since my freshman year when we were 13-19. We’ve progressively had better years each year; last year we had the Sweet 16. This year we have an opportunity to have a solid year. So I think there’s been a lot of progression, a lot of hard work, a lot of different strategies and different attempts with trying this or trying that,” he said.
When you tally up Romeo’s minutes from when he arrived on campus to now, he’s played in just about a game and a quarter (50 total minutes) in his four-year career. So, what keeps a player like him committed to the program? For starters, the man running it.
“I wanted to learn from one of the best. That’s obviously why I came to play for coach Huggins. I take that into consideration every day; even when we’re having bad days, hard days, even when I’m not getting as many reps or a lot of minutes and things like that. I’m still thinking about all that stuff as well. So I think that definitely comes into play,” he said.
Whether you’ve played 50 minutes or 5,000 in your career, Senior Night will always bring with it emotion. As a native of White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., tomorrow night will be even more emotional for Romeo and his family members that will be in attendance.
“They’re all in-state people. They kind of know what it means to me to be here from their point of view and from my point of view. They get it just as much as I do,” he said.
It’s the finality of it all that often brings out the raw emotion in these athletes. When the calendar turns to March and the season starts to wind down, it is only natural to see the finish line ahead and start thinking about all the things you’ve been through with your team over the years; even if they’re just random memories from practice.
“I’ve thought about it. Yesterday - we have a guy that runs in here and yells ‘Ding it in!’ all the time – and it just kind of hit me like, man, that’s one of the last times I’m going to hear that in here as a player. It’s just little things like that that have kind of dawned on me. I guess it will all kind of sink in tomorrow,” Romeo said.
When his name is called and he and his parents walk to center court to receive his framed jersey tomorrow, Romeo’s mind will obviously be on the memories he has made as a Mountaineer. But as soon as the ball is tipped, you can bet it will focus back to the present task of preparing to make a deep run in the postseason, which Romeo said is a completely realistic goal for his team.
“We’re capable of a lot. People are more worrisome about us than we are about them I think; especially in a tournament setting with low time to prepare. I think that puts us at a great advantage over other teams,” he said.
Romeo might not have become a household name in his four years as a Mountaineer, but he has shown the kind of dedication to his coach and his program that is all too rare in college basketball these days, and for that he deserves respect.