Back Door

The latest addition to West Virginia's basketball roster made something of a backdoor cut in order to earn a spot on the Mountaineer basketball team. That's fitting in more ways than one, as the move is not only a staple of John Beilein's offense but also a perfect metaphor for the way in which he attracted the attention of the WVU coaching staff.

"I had e-mailed WVU a couple of times letting them know I was very interested," said Ironton's Dennis Gagai, who will walk on at WVU this fall. "(Assistant coach) Matt Brown promised me he would watch me play. He and Coach Beilein came down to watch me play against Huntington High School. I think they were probably there as much or more to see Patrick Patterson as they were to see me. But I ended up scoring 39 points."

If the WVU coaches weren't seriously interested in Gagai before then, that performance certainly grabbed their attention. It led to more contacts, and ended up with the 6-3 guard's decision to bypass some scholarship offers in favor of playing in the Big East.

"They talked to my coach and we had a meeting, and they said they were out of scholarships. But they talked with me about it and told me if I would walk on that would be a good decision for me. I had offers from VMI and contacts with a number of MAC schools and lower division schools, but in the end I decided it would be the best for me there."

With good performances, Gagai could earn a scholarship at some point in the future, but for now the Ironton star is just looking forward to playing in a system that he likes.

"They run my style of offense," he noted. "That moving and shooting style will be good for me. It will help me adjust. It will also be good for me to have someone that I know to play with."

The companion Gagai mentions is Portsmouth's Cam Thoroughman, who will also be heading to WVU soon. The pair played AAU ball for several years together on the Eastern Kentucky Thunder, where they won several tournaments and titles. However, for a long while, it appeared as if the duo would be parting company in college

"It was way after the recruiting deadline, and I stopped getting phone calls. I was worried about that, and I figured I would end up going to a smaller school," Gagai said of the recruiting process. "But we got this worked out, and now I will have a chance to play at a high level. Now that it's done, I can go out and play and have some fun."

Gagai is playing in the West Virginia-Ohio basketball all-star games on June 9th and 10th, and will then devote much of the summer to work with a personal trainer. He'll also make a visit to WVU for summer basketball camps before returning to enroll in August.

"I want to improve my quickness and vertical leap," said Gagai. "Those are the things I need to work on the most."


Like many Beilein ballers, Gagai is a heady player that understands the game and excels at fundamentals.

"Probably shooting is my best asset," Gagai said as he prepared for the West Virginia-Ohio games. "Then seeing the floor and knowing what is happening. The WVU offense plays into my strengths. They have a lot of smart players there, and that comes from Coach Beilein. He is a smart coach."

While Gagai (6-3, 205 lbs.) seems slotted as a two guard, he believes he could play other positions as well.

"I think I could play the three, and I played a lot of point for our team in high school. I'm comfortable handling the ball, so I think I'm capable of running the point."

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