Finding the Right Fit

When Jamie Smalligan began looking at schools after he decided to leave Butler, one of the most important things on his agenda was finding a university that was good with transfers.

There's a lot that goes into making a decision to leave a college, and a certain amount of anxiety about transferring into a new school with an established group of players. With those thoughts in mind, Smalligan knew that finding a place where transfers were welcomed was important.

"I planned on talking to every school about that, and West Virginia talked to me about how they handle transfers," Smalligan told after picking the Mountaineers. "In fact, [St. Bonaventure transfer] Mike Gansey was my host on my visit. He talked a lot about how WVU works to give transfers a lot of confidence, and about how involved they are in practice and everything. That gave me a good feeling about West Virginia."

Of course, WVU had a lot of recent history on its side in that department, what with the success of Gansey and D'or Fischer, and with another import, Robert Summers, getting ready to play this fall. That success also played into Smalligan's decision to attend WVU, as the proof of the Mountaineers' success with transfers was plain to see on the court.

It will be awhile, however, before Smalligan will get the chance to add his name to the list of West Virginia transfer success stories. He will have to sit out the upcoming season, and while many players might be dreading a year without game action, the seven-foot center is viewing it as an opportunity for improvement. He isn't dreading the 2005-06 campaign, where he will be eligible to practice, but not play in games. In fact, his outlook is just the opposite.

"I'm actually kind of looking forward to sitting out," the Michigan native said. "I think it will be good for me. I will get a chance to work and improve my game. I'm going to work hard, and I believe [the WVU coaching staff] will help me develop."

As mentioned previously, Smalligan watched much of West Virginia's postseason tournament run, and saw a lot to like about the WVU program.

"Coach Beilein likes big men that can shoot, and that's something I can do," said Smalligan, who will have two years of eligibility after he sits out the upcoming season. "The style of play at West Virginia really suits me well."

Smalligan's numbers bear him out. Despite being plagued by an ankle sprain and an illness for much of his sophomore conference season at Butler, he still managed to hit 39.6% of his three pointers for the Bulldogs, which was good for third place on the team. Throw in a 71.9% free throw mark, and it's clear that, if nothing else, the former East Grand Rapids star can shoot the rock.

Beilein has quietly made a name for himself as a developer of shooters, so his influence and teaching methods are expected to help boost those numbers even further. And while Smalligan might never reach the lofty shooting levels of a Kevin Pittsnogle, he certainly has the ability to make defenders abandon the paint to defend him, which is a key to the current offensive system employed by the veteran coach.

One other big factor in Smalligan's decision was the involvement of his parents in his search for a new home. Both were involved in the decision, and talked with him a good deal during the process.

"Both my parents helped me a lot," Smalligan said. "The talked with me about a lot of different things, and helped me with the decision."

Smalligan's mother accompanied him on his trips to West Virginia and Richmond, but when it became apparent that a decision was imminent, they also made sure that their son made the call on his own. They took care not to involve themselves too much, even to the point of not talking to the media about their son's impending decision. That indicated their intent to make sure the decision was seen as Jamie's, and not their own.

In the end, everything fell into place for West Virginia, and as a result the Mountaineers now have two bookends to the Class of 2006. Along with point guard Joe Mazzulla, Beilein and his staff have the point guard and center they need, and will now target the positions in between in what is expected to be at least a five-man class.

Since the second semester of summer school has already begun, Smalligan will not enroll in classes until the fall. He plans to work at out home for the remainder of this month, then move to Morgantown in mid-August to begin working with his new teammates.

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