Cook: It's still possible to get Pittsnogled
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Everywhere you look in this NCAA tournament there are great players. Texas A&M's Acie Law. North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough. UCLA's Arron Afflalo. Wisconsin's Alando Tucker. The list goes on and on.
But none will be any bigger than the tall, white kid from West Virginia with the freakish tattoos, the goatee and the funny last name once was.
What? You disagree?
Get back to me when you hear a team got Duranted.
You know, the way West Virginia's opponents got Pittsnogled in the previous two NCAA tournaments.
"It was pretty crazy," Kevin Pittsnogle was saying the other day. "Nothing like that will ever happen to me again."
Gee, do ya think?
Pittsnogle's Warholian fame lasted a heck of a lot longer than 15 minutes.
Texas' Kevin Durant and Ohio State's Greg Oden are much better players and will go one-two in the NBA draft in June. Pittsnogle wasn't drafted last June. Durant and Oden will have long pro careers and make millions. Pittsnogle, who failed a tryout with the Boston Celtics last summer, might never make it in the NBA and spent this season with the Continental Basketball Association's Xplosion, who, rumor has it, play in Pittsburgh. Durant and Oden will perform at Madison Square Garden and the world's other famous arenas. Pittsnogle played in Butte, Mont., Minot, N.D., and Yakima, Wash.
But, sorry, there's just no way Durant or Oden captures America's attention the way Pittsnogle did.
"I think it's because of the way I shoot and because I'm tall and white and have the tattoos and the unique name," Pittsnogle said.
Sure, that was a big part of it. But so was West Virginia's phenomenal success as a team. It put the madness in March by overachieving like few had before it.
The Mountaineers made the NCAA tournament in 2005 -- Pittsnogle's junior season -- by rolling over Providence, Boston College and Villanova in the Big East Conference tournament before running out of gas against Syracuse in the title game. They were the talk of New York that weekend.
"Mountain Do!" screamed one back-page headline.
The magic continued in the NCAA tournament when West Virginia beat Creighton, Wake Forest and Texas Tech before falling one step short of the Final Four after blowing a 20-point, second-half lead to Louisville. Even Louisville coach Rick Pitino felt sorry for the underdog Mountaineers that day.
Pittsnogle was West Virginia's best player, although some will say it was Mike Gansey. Certainly, Pittsnogle was the unusual face of that team because of the tats and his strange name, and because, at 6-foot-11, he could step out and hit a 3 with a release so quick it should be against the rules.
It wasn't long after that '05 season that West Virginia coach John Beilein turned on an NBA game and heard announcer Brent Musberger describe a 3-point shot by Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki.
The Spurs just got Pittsnogled! "Unbelievable, isn't it?" Beilein asked.
It sure isn't every day they make a verb out of a man's name.
"I didn't pay much attention to what was going on at the time because I was just playing," Pittsnogle said. "But as I look back on it now, I realize how much fun it was being in college and going through that. I miss it a lot. My only regret is I didn't take more advantage of it."
Pittsnogle still isn't capitalizing on his fame, which only grew when West Virginia made another run to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 last season. He probably could make a comfortable living in West Virginia just by being Kevin Pittsnogle the rest of his life. He, Gansey and the others are treated like rock stars in Almost Heaven.
But Pittsnogle, who shut down his season with the Xplosion 10 days ago because of elbow and toe injuries, has returned to his hometown of Martinsburg, W.Va., where he was raised in a trailer park, where everyone knows him and where folks respect his privacy. By all accounts, he leads a quiet life with his wife, Heather, and son, Kwynsie, 13 months.
"I'm not one to go looking to talk to people," Pittsnogle said. "If they want to talk to me, that's fine. I talk to them. But it's not like I seek attention."
If Pittsnogle wanted anonymity, he couldn't have picked a better team than the Xplosion. When West Virginia played Pitt at the Petersen Events Center, the building throbbed. But the place is mostly empty for Xplosion games. It's even worse when the team plays at cavernous Mellon Arena.
"I decided to play there instead of overseas because it was more money and closer to home," Pittsnogle said.
"It's still basketball, but it is different. Nothing is on the line. In college, you're on TV all the time and you're playing for your team, playing for March. Here, there aren't many people watching and you're playing to get to the NBA."
Pittsnogle hasn't given up on that dream. He leaves April 1 to play in a league in Puerto Rico, then hopes to catch on with an NBA summer league team.
"After that, we'll see," he said.
It's still possible, you know?
Shaq getting Pittsnogled.
First Published March 18, 2007 12:00 am