James Long's work pays off in "surreal" Senior Night - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

James Long's work pays off in "surreal" Senior Night

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Bob Huggins and James Long talk shop on the Coliseum court. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle) Bob Huggins and James Long talk shop on the Coliseum court. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle)
MORGANTOWN -

James Long was the first player on the court Friday night, putting up shots hours before his final game inside the WVU Coliseum.

I asked him, as each of his shots fell effortlessly through nylon, what Bob Huggins would draw up for him if he had the chance to see the floor against Iowa State.

“Hopefully a three,” Long said.

He didn’t have to hope for long.

The Charleston native didn’t know at the time that he would be in the starting lineup. It wasn’t until shoot around that Huggins approached him and gave him some instructions on guarding Cyclones sharpshooter Matt Thomas. That’s when Long had an idea that he may get more playing time than just the final 30 seconds of a half.

As it turned out, Long’s walk with his family surrounding him was the first of two trips down the carpet on Senior Night. He and the four other seniors comprised West Virginia’s starting lineup, and Long had a message when the five huddled together just prior to tipoff.

“I just said I’m not coming in here just to be a part of this and make it a special moment,” Long said. “I’m coming in to try to help. I was trying to help us play better.”

The first offensive possession, Long darted to the left, waited a moment for a pass that didn’t come, and then crossed the court to the right. Tarik Phillip found him waiting on the wing.

Naz Long closed, but not soon enough for WVU’s Long to get the shot away.

“If there’s an inch of space, it’s going up. I had to shoot it,” Long said. “Tarik told me before the game, if you’re open, I’m going to give it to you – shoot it. I did. The rest is history.”

One hundred percent from the field, three points in the game, an 87-76 victory – that’s how Long will remember his Senior Night for the Mountaineers.

“I thought the Manhattan shot was cool,” Long said after the game, referencing a buzzer beater he made back in November. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even match up in the press. I was running around. It was an awesome feeling just to see it go through. We had the lead when I was in and just to know that I didn’t make a fool out of myself out there, it felt great out there.”

Anyone who has seen Long in the gym knows that the “inch of space” he sought is all that is required for the guy who many of his teammates call the best pure shooter on the roster.

“If he gets a good shot, he’s probably going to make it,” Huggins said on Long.

Huggins should know. His office at the Basketball Practice Facility overlooks the court and the sound of a basketball bouncing on the floor often signals Long’s presence.

“James has meant so much to this program,” Huggins said. “It’s hard to put into words how much he’s meant to this program with his work ethic, with dragging other guys in the gym with him.”

Jevon Carter is one of those other guys. The junior guard said after the game that it was emotional for him to watch Long knock down the trey, knowing how much time the two have spent in the gym together.

Carter sees his work pay off each night for the Mountaineers. He’s the team’s leading scorer, he averages the most minutes – his contributions on game day far exceed Long’s. And yet Long continues to put in the extended hours in the gym in an effort to better himself and his teammates.

“It just shows his dedication,” fellow senior Brandon Watkins said of Long. “We applaud him for that and we look up to it. They always say, y’all get in the gym like James. We try to copy him and he’s been a great guy, a great friend to be around.”

Long isn’t only doing all he can to see this year’s Mountaineers reach their full potential – he wants to be part of the program’s continued success for years to come.

“Every recruit that we’ve brought on campus, he’s been involved,” Huggins said. “He believes in West Virginia University and he believes in the program and does a great job of selling it to other people. If anybody deserves to kind of get a start on senior night, James Long does. He’s gone above and beyond.”

The home games may have come to an end Friday night, but now Long turns his attention to postseason play and the real goals that he and the rest of the Mountaineers set to accomplish as a team before the season began.

“If we do what we do, we know what can beat anyone in the conference,” Long said. “We’re trying to hang a banner. We’re trying to win a Big 12 championship and we’re sitting in a good spot.”

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