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Chuck Landon: West Virginia known more for basketball than football

Jul. 13, 2013 @ 11:43 PM

Just exactly what kind of sporting state is West Virginia?

Is it a football state? Is it a basketball state? Or is it, perhaps, becoming a golf state?

The knee-jerk reaction is West By Gosh is a football state.

As evidence, Emory Sports Marketing Analytics recently released a study that analyzed offseason college football conversations on Twitter. The analysis examined the percentage of all Twitter conversations that related to collegiate football in the last six months.

Alabama was the leader, which comes as no surprise.

And West Virginia?

It finished an impressive fifth behind (in order) only Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and South Carolina.

So, the Mountain State is football territory, right?

Not so fast.

Thanks to the diligent effort of Jim Justice, who brought an annual PGA tour event to The Greenbrier, golf is rapidly making up a lot of ground. The annual Greenbrier Classic has become the greatest infomercial imaginable for the state.

Yet, can West Virginia honestly be classified as a golf state?

No.

But what has Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia always been? A basketball state. And it still is.

I mean, what single game stands out as the greatest disappointment in state history?

Is it WVU's 34-21 loss to Notre Dame for the national championship in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl? No. How about the 41-7 lambasting the Mountaineers took from Florida in the 1994 Sugar Bowl, which also had national championship implications? Again, no.

The biggest disappointment was WVU's 71-70 loss to California in the national championship game of the 1959 NCAA Tournament. The inimitable Jerry West scored 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while being named MVP of the Final Four, but the Mountaineers still lost by a single point.

And the state wept.

Now, let's take it a step further. What innovators has West Virginia produced in football? None. Sure, state native Nick Saban is the most successful football coach on the planet, but he didn't invent winning.

But basketball? West Virginia has produced more innovative basketball coaches than any other state.

I'm not exaggerating.

Cam Henderson, a Marion County native, invented the 2-3 zone defense and the fastbreak, while coaching at a high school in Bristol, W.Va. Then, Clair Bee, a native of Grafton who was nicknamed the "Innovator," invented the 1-3-1 zone defense and the three-second rule.

Want more?

Neal Baisi, a native of Randolph County, invented the zone-press defense and the four-corners offense popularized by Dean Smith at North Carolina.

That's an impressive list.

Then, there are such icons as Hot Rod Hundley, West, Rod Thorn and Hal Greer -- all state natives. Is any other West Virginian the logo for a professional sport such as the NBA? Jerry West is.

Richwood's Mike Barrett and West both won Olympic gold medals in basketball. Hundley, West, Thorn and Mike D'Antoni have had distinguished pro basketball careers in coaching, broadcasting and administration.

Why, the first African-American to play in the NBA even was produced by West Virginia. Earl Lloyd, who starred at West Virginia State College, broke the color barrier in the 1950-51 NBA season.

The legacy of basketball in our state is nothing short of legendary.

No other sport can say that.

That's why West Virginia is still a basketball state.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Email him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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