WVU at Civic Center
MORGANTOWN - When West Virginia's basketball team arrives at the Civic Center tonight to face Morehead State, Paul Williamson will take his seat near the end of the bench and begin wondering what the night has in store for him.
More often than not, that means spending most of the next two hours pretty much anchored to his seat. Such is the life of most walk-ons in the Big East, especially freshman walk-ons.
The issue is even more exaggerated this season at West Virginia because of the make-up of the roster. With seven newcomers or relative newcomers among the top 10 players, when coach Bob Huggins wants to try something different, he has all kinds of options and all sorts of fresh faces to look toward.
Every once in a while, though, something happens that can shock everyone. Such was the case last Thursday at the Coliseum when Williamson was just getting comfortable in one of those chairs, watching the Mountaineers play Alcorn State.
Less than seven minutes had been played. West Virginia led by five, 17-12, but it wasn't the kind of performance Bob Huggins was hoping for at that point. Freshman Aaron Brown had just bricked a 3-pointer.
So Huggins turned and looked down his bench. And he called Williamson's name.
If most of those in the smallish crowd at the Coliseum were slack-jawed, imagine how Williamson felt.
"I was kind of just stunned,'' Williamson said. "I can't even explain it. I was just kind of stunned that he called my name so early.
"At first it just went through my mind like, 'Did he just say my name?' And then he said it again and I thought, 'Oh my gosh.' I took my shirt off and I went up and I was trying to calm myself.''
Then he prayed.
"Just help me. Give me strength,'' Williamson thought. "And don't let me go out here and look stupid.''
Well, Williamson didn't look stupid. In fact, he actually looked like he belonged at times.
The freshman from Harts, who played his high school basketball at Logan, wound up playing more minutes the rest of the game (19 of the remaining 33) than anyone else on WVU's roster. He took his first collegiate shot, a 3-pointer, within 80 seconds of getting on the court and drained it.
He would finish his evening with seven points, two assists and even a blocked shot.
And now, as the Mountaineers resume play with one of two annual games in Charleston, he goes back to his seat on the bench. Maybe he'll get another unexpected call, maybe not.
Truth is, he said, he doesn't care.
"As long as this team wins, I could care less,'' Williamson said. "If I never play again for the rest of the season, as long as we keep winning I'll be happy.''
Chances are pretty good that Williamson will get some sort of a chance to play tonight at the Civic Center. He did, after all, acquit himself well in his first taste of college basketball last week and Huggins tends to reward things like that. If he needs a shooter tonight against Morehead State - or just someone who will follow instructions - he has such a player in Williamson.
"Paul comes in and listens and tries to do what he's supposed to do,'' Huggins said. "Some of those [other] guys still think they're going to out-stubborn me. And I just want to make sure they understand they're not.''
Thus, Williamson plays seven minutes into the game. Not only that, he plays well enough to stay on the floor.
"Paul can make shots and he's going to play hard and you know what he's going to give you,'' Huggins said. "If he gets an open shot he's got a great chance to make it. He's not going to force things. He's not going to overpenetrate and lose the ball. He's got a few deficiencies at the defensive end, but he works really, really hard. And I've had a lot of guys like that who at the end of the day end up being pretty good defenders.''
If there's one thing that will prevent Williamson from playing extensive minutes as the season wears on, it is his defense. He just isn't equipped physically to handle the quick guards that populate most Big East backcourts.
"That's one of the things where I know what I can do and I know what I can't do,'' Williamson said. "I'm not going to get completely up in it and pressure a guy. But the one thing coach has taught me is that defense is mainly about heart. If you've got it inside of you then it's just about getting down and playing as hard as you can. And I want to make him happy, so that's what I do.
"I'm not the best defender. I'm not the quickest person or the most athletic. But what coach Huggins has taught me is that it's all about heart and about effort. And that's what you've got to do to play it.''
If Williamson gets another chance to play tonight it will be in familiar territory. He helped Logan to a state championship at the Civic Center two years ago and helped them get back there last season. Afterward, he had a chance to play at just about any small college in the state or at some smaller Division I schools.
"I had some offers and stuff and I was appreciative of them and I talked to the coaches,'' Williamson said. "But then coach Huggins called me and when he called me I knew it. I've always been a West Virginia fan and as soon as he called me I knew what I was doing.
"I've loved West Virginia basketball since I was little. There's no better place to play. It's special. Best fans in the country, best coach in the country. Everything's just perfect here.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.