*Full video interviews with Butler, Gansey and Bonner are at the bottom of the page
A three-hour drive to Canton, Ohio for an NBA D-League game is apparently worth it, especially if you have any interest in West Virginia University basketball.
On Friday, the Austin Toros visited the Canton Charge for the first of two games at the Canton Civic Center. Former Mountaineer standout Da'Sean Butler was leading the Toros, which sit atop the Western Conference standings, and looking to pull them from a three-game slide similar to that of his alma mater.
Butler wasn't the only one with WVU ties, though. As we sat down to speak with the New Jersey native, a towering 7-footer started draining 3-pointers in the background. It looked like something you'd see for a John Beilein team, and that turned out to be precisely the case.
Luke Bonner, who spent just one season with the Mountaineers, had recently been added to the Toros' roster.
"It's definitely been a pleasant surprise," Bonner says of having a Mountaineer in Austin. "I came to the team midseason and he's sort of welcomed me to the family nicely. We have a lot to talk about. Same experiences, even though we were there at different times."
Different, sure, but both Bonner and Butler were in Morgantown for big moments and big runs that many of their fans won't soon forget. Butler was of course the leader of a team that won a Big East championship at Madison Square Garden and ultimately played in a Final Four, while Bonner spent his freshman season working with an Elite Eight squad.
And if you're looking for a star from that Elite Eight, he was in the building, too.
Mike Gansey, one of three players who averaged double digits scoring in the 2004-05 season, was on hand representing the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he has a front office position that allows him to spend some time scouting potential professional talent.
"It's exciting," Gansey says of the impromptu reunion. "Obviously seeing Da'Sean and Luke, one teammate and one Mountaineer legend that I never got to play with -- just to see them play and obviously seeing them live and not playing against them, it's pretty fun."
Despite the fact that Bonner averaged just over four minutes per game in his lone season at WVU before transferring to finish his career closer to home at Massachusetts, he still believes in the saying that once a Mountaineer, always a Mountaineer.
"That was one of the best basketball experiences of my life, for sure, being part of that Elite Eight team," says Bonner. "I keep in touch with some of those guys just as much as I do my teammates from UMass. I talk to Darris all the time, Mike Gansey is here ... It's really true, I still feel like a Mountaineer and everything. It was a really special experience."
The experience in Austin has the potential to be special, too, but things need to get turned around quickly. Friday's game went the way of the home team as the Toros fell to the Charge 106-87.
Butler had a team-leading 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting to go along with four rebounds and two assists in nearly 34 minutes. Bonner played just over two minutes, finishing without a basket.
Facing a four-game slide, the Toros again take on the Charge Saturday night looking to get back on track to maintain their position atop the Western Conference.
Full video interviews with Butler, Gansey and Bonner are posted below.