West Virginia's James Long Enjoys Dream Senior Night

Walk-on players find most of their satisfaction in working hard and pushing other players in practice, along with the occasional moment on the court at the ends of games. West Virginia's James Long got a different thrill when he had a dream senior night as the Mountaineers brushed aside Iowa State.

Long, like many walk-ons, is a fan favorite. Chants of his name at the end of games that are decided became de rigueur this season. Ones that closed with him making a shot left fans, especially the student section, with an extra good feeling to relive after a win. But that was nothing compared to the feeling Long and the sellout crowd in attendance had when he enjoyed the best possible Senior Night of all in the Mountaineers' 87-76 win over the Cyclones.

First, there was the start. Head coach Bob Huggins made the decision to start all five seniors in a game that, while not critical, certainly had big implications on post-season seeding. That he did so speaks not only to the confidence Huggins has in the players, but also to the side of his personality that peeps out now and then -- his loyalty to them. Walking down the carpet with his four fellow seniors, both in the pre-game festivities and as a member of the starting five, left a memory that can never be replaced.

"Huggs told us during shootaround and it was cool," said Long, who added that the team never worries about who starts. "We were locked in and we were going to play hard. We knew we were going to play for each other, and it made it that much more of a special night."

Then came the storybook moment that makes sports special. Admittedly a small one in the vast landscape, there's no doubt that it will resonate with Mountaineer fans for a long time. On West Virginia's first possession, Tarik Phillip found Long on the right side and fed him the ball. Long promptly swished a jumper from beyond the arc, sending the Coliseum into a frenzy.

"I thought the shot against Manhattan was cool," Long said of the nailed 3-pointer at the first half buzzer against the Jaspers earlier this year. "I think the main thing was knowing my parents and brother and sister were there. I had a lot of people here for Senior Night, and I told the guys when we were huddled up that I wanted to come in and help -- that I didn't want to just be out there."

That he did. By the time Jevon Carter appeared for him at the scorer's table, Long had the game's first points, plus solid defensive play that had allowed WVU to push out to a 9-3 lead. Those two minutes and 12 seconds on the court will reside in his personal highlight reel forever, but they are just a part of what he has enjoyed over his time on West Virginia's team. The relationships he has built with others, the support and competition he has provided, are probably even more important.

In the culture of the locker room, nothing speaks acceptance like teasing and cracking on teammates. When you're the recipient, you've arrived -- you're part of the team. And it's clear that despite his limited game time on the floor, Long has occupied that position for some time. Exhibit A in that regard? Carter's commentary while Long was being interviewed during the postgame.

"Man, he makes one shot and he gets all of this?" Carter said facetiously while Long had his moment in the sun. "Come on, why's he here? I wish I got media after one bucket!"

Long, asked about that, gave it right back.

"He's a bad teammate, a bad friend," Long said with as much of a straight face as he could muster. "I'm glad Tarik was in, because he passed me the ball. Jevon probably would have shot it."

Later, Long reflected on that.

"I give him a hard time but he's a jokester," he said of Carter. "He acts like he's quiet but around us he doesn't shut up. He's one of my best friends."

When he looks back on his time at West Virginia, Long will certainly have this 3-pointer in the memory banks, but all the time spent and the friendships and relationships developed while toiling on the practice courts, weight room and on long trips will likely loom just as large.

Mountaineers Daily Top Stories