Former Players Now Fans

This time last season, Patrick Beilein and Mike Gansey were helping lead the Mountaineer men's basketball team through the Big East and into the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen. One year later, Beilein and Gansey have settled into being fans and cheering on their former teammates.

The pair is currently in Morgantown running a series of basketball camps and clinics for youngsters at HealthWorks Rehab & Fitness. Beilein started running the camps in the fall, and called on his best friend Gansey to come help him out. Gansey, a first team all-Big East selection last season, was at home in Ohio recovering from a pair of staph infections that put his pro basketball career on hold over the summer.

With both players being back in town, they've had a chance to watch former teammates Darris Nichols, Rob Summers, and Frank Young lead the 2006-2007 Mountaineers to a 13-3 record over the past couple of months. As you can imagine, both former players feel great about the success of this year's team.

"I love it right now," Beilein said last week. "I love the way that they're playing. They have this great togetherness right now. Maybe not as much as we had last year, but you can definitely see that it's going to grow. They'll grow as a team, especially with some of the losses that they'll get better from."

Mike Gansey
Gansey has taken a particular sense of pride in watching sophomore forward Joe Alexander and sophomore guard Alex Ruoff develop into key players for the Mountaineers. As a senior last season, Gansey tutored the freshmen through their inaugural collegiate campaigns.

"Watching them blossom has been really special, especially the freshmen from last season like Joe and Alex," said Gansey, who noted that he's been to four or five games in person this season while watching the others on television. "(Ruoff) played my position, so I kind of groomed him last year. All of the guys have really stepped into their roles and played well."

Whereas last year's squad had a high-profile due to the exploits of Beilein, Gansey, and fellow seniors Kevin Pittsnogle, Joe Herber, and J.D. Collins, the current Mountaineers have been somewhat under the radar. Still, the 2006-2007 squad has one of the same qualities that last season's Sweet Sixteen team had: strong leadership. Players like Nichols, Summers, and Young were unheralded last season, but are a big part of the early success so far.

"That's what makes me so proud, because they were kind of overshadowed last year with the seniors," said Beilein, who will begin playing for the Charleston-based West Virginia Wild in March. "To see them having success right now just makes me smile and I'm really happy for them."

"I feel good for guys like Frank and Darris too," added Gansey. "They've helped us win some games in the past with Frank coming through in the Big East tournament, and then Darris with that big block in the NCAA's against Wake Forest. They're great players, and they just waited their turn like Coach Beilein asked them to. Now look at them: they're stars on that team. "It's really refreshing to see Rob in there too, being the madman and being everywhere on the court. He's not going to be a scorer like Kevin Pittsnogle, but he does all of the little things that help the team win. They're really doing well."

In addition to being a fan, Patrick Beilein has become the Jack Nicholson of West Virginia basketball. No, you won't be seeing him in an action movie anytime soon, but he does have something in common with both Nicholson and legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. Everytime the Mountaineers are playing a game that Patrick is attending, the camera seems to find him. That sends the announcers into a 30 second trip down memory lane while they talk about the accomplishments of Beilein and his class of 2006 teammates.

"I don't mind being put up there with those type of stars," he said with a laugh when asked about his Nicholson-esque role. "(Wooden and Nicholson) are legends, though. I'm not used to having the camera on me for 30 seconds like that. As long as I don't do anything dumb while the camera is on me, I don't mind."

Perhaps the biggest adjustment has been having to watch the games on television.

"(Not playing) is not as bad as people may think, at least when I'm at the game," explained Beilein. "When I have to watch it on TV, though, it's tough. I want to yell to them and help them out, but I know that they can't hear me. That's the hardest part. I don't have a problem watching them in person, but watching them on TV is just way too different."

Gansey is wishing that he could suit up again with his former teammates for another game.

"I just wish all five of us were together again and got to play one more game," he says. "I don't care if it's a rec-league game. Just being able to be with everyone again and play would be great."

For now, though, they'll have to stick to their roles as fans.

"It's like I'm their superfan now that I'm not playing," Gansey said.

Though their roles have changed from being players to being fans, all of last year's seniors can take solace in the fact that they laid the groundwork for the future success of Mountaineer basketball.

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