By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Senior Day for Kevin Jones started long before he arrived at the Coliseum, before he and his best buddy, Truck Bryant, marched down the carpet to be honored for their contributions to West Virginia basketball.
It started in a barber’s chair down on High Street, which is the main drag in Morgantown’s downtown area. His friend, Rob, has been cutting his hair since he was a 6-foot-5, 215-pound freshman trying to figure out if he liked the countrified air of West Virginia better than the smog that normally settles over the New York area.
Rob’s assignment was to carve the initials “WV” into the back of his ’do.
“I told him I would let no one else do it,” Jones said. “I wanted to show how much this state and the university have meant to me.”
And as he walked down that carpet with his family, as he hugged Huggs and embraced Bryant, the fans in the stands let him know how much he meant to them.
Then he went out and showed them why, joining Bryant in a Senior Day duet of basketball excellence, the likes of which if it had gone on all season would have put WVU in the hunt for a No. 1 seed.
True, the opponent was hardly the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was DePaul, a team with two Big East victories and, quite frankly, it is difficult to imagine how they got those … but this was a huge game for the Mountaineers, one where the personal success of Jones and Bryant had to be put on the back burner in favor of winning at any cost.
The reason was they had won just two of their last nine games and Bryant and Jones had somehow gotten on different wave lengths, one playing as good as the other played bad on occasion.
But on this night they were Jordan and Pippen, Russell and Havlicek, Kobe and Shaq. Bryant was pumped right from the beginning, hitting his first two 3s and when he does that it’s like a shot of 5-Hour Energy. There is no stopping him when that happens, certainly not by a DePaul defense that is the leakiest in the Big East.
Bryant finished with 28 points, including 12 of 16 from the free throw line.
If he was having fun, you might say Jones was having a ball … usually right after DePaul had shot it.
His contribution was a double-double, his 19th of the season, which include 16 rebounds — only 11 fewer than the 11 players DePaul played were able to garner all night.
Jones also dumped in 22 points, blocked a couple of shots, had a steal and an assist.
Such wonderfully adventurous nights, which led to a certain irony for sitting in the stands watching was a WVU hero of another year, Alex Ruoff, whose Senior Night against Louisville was a disaster, failing to score.
This was not going to happen with either Jones or Bryant, even though Jones admitted that he had some trouble sleeping the previous night.
Bryant wouldn’t have known. He had no trouble sleeping … and he lives with Jones.
As usual, this was not only emotional for Jones and Bryant, but also for the man who has nurtured them along for the last four years.
“When you are running those guys for four years like we are and you go through as many things as you go through in a season, you are around them in a lot of aspects from an academic standpoint, from a social standpoint, you obviously get close and they become a part of your family,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said.
“You hate to see them go. You have so many times together. You kind of look forward to the new guys at the same time, but you hate to see guys go. I have been very fortunate, my guys don’t go too far. I still talk to a whole bunch of guys on a regular basis that played for me at Walsh.”
And you can bet that he will be in contact with Bryant and Jones, too, and they will not slide too far from each other.
That was evident when Huggins lifted them in the closing minutes of the game, the outcome settled, allowing them to leave as one to a standing ovation from the rather disappointing crowd of 10,255.
And as they walked off the court, they looked at each other.
“I love you,” Jones said to Bryant.
“We were saying we love each other,” Bryant added. “It’s been a great relationship the last four years.”
And, Jones wanted to point out, that it is hardly over now.
“I hope we play together another month,” he said.
That would take them deep into the NCAA Tournament.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.