Spark Plug

West Virginia's recent run in both the Big East and NCAA tournaments has brought an energy to the Mountain State that has not been seen in recent years, and it has made heroes out of guys like Kevin Pittsnogle and Mike Gansey, who have become instant figures in driveway basketball games across West Virginia, as young fans act out the heroics of their favorite Mountaineers.

Pittsnogle and Gansey may be the ones throwing in the buzzer beaters on the wooden backboards in the backyard fantasy games, and they are also the players finding their likenesses in Sports Illustrated and the New York Daily News. But without the contributions of Frank Young, WVU's season would have likely come to an end after one win in the Big East tournament. Instead, West Virginia is still part of the action as we approach the last couple of weeks in March.

It is not that Gansey, Pittsnogle and Tyrone Sally do not deserve the publicity they are getting. Kevin's consistency from behind the arc and the icewater in the veins of Gansey are attributes that often garner the biggest headlines. But these players are quick to admit that Young deserves much of the credit.

"He is just a great player, and he shoots the ball really well," said Kevin Pittsnogle of his sophomore teammate. "He shows us that in practice every day. But with Tyrone playing so well, he just never had a chance to step in and get a lot of minutes and get into a rythm."

That all changed on March 10. WVU had already advanced to the second round of the Big East Tournament with an 82-59 win over Providence when Tyrone Sally came down with the flu. The senior forward could barely stand up, and there was no chance of him playing in West Virginia's quarterfinal matchup with Boston College.

So it was Frank Young who got the nod. Against the No. 1 seed in the tournament, the No. 7 team in the country and under the bright lights that go along with playing in Madison Square Garden and in one of the best conference tournaments in the land, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Tallahassee, Fla. native finally got his chance.

While WVU coaches and fans were keeping their fingers crossed that Young would not do anything to hurt the Mountaineers' cause, Frank did just the opposite. Young helped begin an early West Virginia run with a long three, and 14 points, three steals and two rebounds later, WVU pulled off the upset, downing the Eagles 78-72 for their first ever trip to the Big East semifinals.

Young, though, was not done yet. Earning the start the rest of the way, Young scored 12 points in West Virginia's win over Villanova and then chipped in eight in the championship against Syracuse. What appeared to be an illness that would end the Mountaineers' season instead turned into the arrival of a new star.

Now, with Sally healthy once again and West Virginia back in the heat of NCAA tournament play, Young has found his seat back on the bench. But WVU head coach John Beilein has certainly not forgotten about his new weapon.

With the score tied at 15-15 in Thursday's first-round matchup with Creighton, Beilein called for No. 21 off the bench. Two Young threes and six minutes later, West Virginia held a 31-19 lead and the large WVU following that had made the trip to Cleveland was on its feet.

"The only difference I felt was not being out there right away," explained Young. "I just wanted to try to give us some production off the bench. I wanted to go in, hit a shot, get a deflection or do something to give us a spark. Once I go in there, I know it is my time to try to help the team."

According to Beilein, no Mountaineer has provided more relief than Young.

"He has just gotten better and better with every game," said Beilein of his ace in the hole. "He is one of the few guys who can sit there all day and then come in and make a jump shot. That is very difficult to do. Frank is just great.

"The thing that is really unique about Frank is that he waited a year and a half to do this," continued the West Virginia coach. "He did it a little his freshman year, and then hit a slump, and this year he started with an extraordinary slump. Now he is just fearless."

And nobody appreciates that fearless attitude more than his teammates, who are preparing for a Round of 32 matchup with Wake Forest largely because of Young.

"He has just been great," said Pittsnogle. "He can shoot the ball really well, and he really rebounds well for his size. He is starting to penetrate and find other guys, but he is still knocking down the shots when he is open.

"It helps us because when Tyrone (Sally) is struggling, he knows there is somebody behind him that can hit shots and help him out," continued the Martinsburg native. "That gives you a lot of confidence as a starter when you know somebody is there to pick it up when you are not playing as well."

Sally couldn't agree more.

"Knowing that we have someone there to provide a spark at any time has really helped us down the stretch," said Sally, who threw home a last second dunk to seal a WVU victory in the tournament's opening round. "He can come in, put up points and pull down rebounds when we need him.

"He is really playing with confidence. We all knew Frank could play. He lights us up in practice. He just finally got an opportunity, and he has taken advantage of it."

You may not find Young's name in the headlines or on the back of a fan's jersey, but if you are looking for a winning team, look for Young in the box score.


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