As the 1990's Motown group Boyz II Men once wrote, "It's so hard/to say goodbye/to yesterday." On Saturday in Morgantown, Mountaineer fans will wave goodbye to a pair of players who have had a big impact on the building of West Virginia's basketball program over the past several years: center Rob Summers, and forward Frank Young.
We'll start with Summers, who came to WVU as a transfer after playing two years for old rival Penn State. Two seasons ago, Rob was simply "that guy" on the bench. You know "that guy", don't you? The guy who sits on the end of the bench decked out in a nice suit while joking with his teammates for the entire game. Though he's not in the game, he's certainly into it. Whether it's standing up to cheer during a timeout, or waving a towel to get the crowd pumped up, he's always supporting his team. That, in a nutshell, was Rob Summers's role during the 2004-2005 season. Basically, all he could do while sitting out was watch and cheer. There was certainly plenty to cheer about as the Mountaineers dashed through the Big East and NCAA Tournaments, finally bowing out in the Elite Eight.
When his first season of eligibility in a Mountaineer uniform finally came, Summers was seemingly a square peg in a round hole. Senior center Kevin Pittsnogle had returned for his senior season after a flirtation with the NBA Draft. With Pittsnogle back on board - and ready for what would turn out to be an All-American season - Summers didn't really have a defined role. For the most part, his role was to check-in right before a media timeout in the first half. He'd play until the first dead ball following the timeout, when Pittsnogle would hustle back to the scorer's table.
In the eyes of some, Summers already had one strike against him because he wasn't Pittsnogle. While the tattooed big man from Martinsburg had become a folk hero both in his home state and nationwide, Summers was just the guy who gave him a break every now and then. When he was in the game, it was never for a long enough period of time to get comfortable. Thus, everything he did was under scrutiny. If he turned the ball over, a collective groan could be heard in some parts of the Coliseum.
Even when he won, he lost so to speak. If Summers would make a basket, sarcastic comments could likely be heard in every section of the building. "Wow, whaddya know, he made one! Now get Pittsnogle back in there."
It wasn't that it was a lost season for the big man. It was just that, in many ways, it didn't seem like he had an identity. He wasn't a shooter like Pittsnogle. He wasn't a dominating shot blocker, such as former center D'or Fischer. When the senior class of 2006 exited stage left, West Virginia fans were wondering what - if anything - they could count on from Summers.
And then came the 2006-07 season. Gone was Pittsnogle, and into the starting lineup was Summers. In just a handful of games, he would play more combined minutes than he played all last year. Given the opportunity to play consistent minutes, Summers has delivered. He's started every game of the season, and is shooting better than 68 percent from the floor.
No, his averages of 4.8 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game won't get him into the Hall of Fame anytime soon, but his contributions go far beyond what can be found on the stat sheet. How many times has Summers taken a charge? How many times has he tipped a ball that is up for grabs out to an open teammate? How many times has the big man sprawled out on the deck to track down a loose ball?
Those intangibles are what Summers brings to the table, and what has helped the Mountaineers win 20 games so far this season. He's a blue-collar big man, who brings a lunch pail and can be described with every other hard-working cliche you can think of. He's not a native West Virginian, but his work ethic and never give up attitude are cut from the same mold as the proud citizens of the Mountain State.
And then, there's Frank Young. Recruited as one of four players in John Beilein's first full class at West Virginia, Young is the only member of that group that has stuck it out for four years. Though he struggled to earn playing time his first year and a half in Morgantown, he didn't just up and leave like the others in his class.
His playing time as a freshman could be described as sparingly. A minute or two here, some garbage time there, but for the most part it was all pine all the time for the rookie forward. The meaningful minutes he did play provided a sneak preview into the big picture of Young's career. In an early season non-conference game against Saint Louis, Young hit a couple of big shots in the first half to key a West Virginia run. Later that season in the NIT, Young scored five consecutive first half points to spark the Mountaineer offense off the bench.
It was his sophomore year, though, that Young made his first big impression on the Big East. When his time finally came to contribute during the 2005 Big East Tournament (subbing for a flu-plagued Tyrone Sally), the marketing major sold Mountaineer fans on his worth as a player with a dazzling display in the World's Most Famous Arena. Young would go on to provide valuable depth for the Mountaineers on their way through the NCAA Tournament.
When his junior season began, Young was called on to step in for Sally once again. This time, the move was permanent as Tyrone had graduated and moved on to the NBA D-League. Young, surrounded by great talent, was the Ringo Starr of West Virginia's lineup. That's to say that, when the time came for his solo, he did what he had to do. Otherwise, he chipped in with whatever was necessary for a team that spent most of the year in the Top 25. If teams were closing out on shooters like Pittsnogle or Mike Gansey, the stars were more than happy to make the extra pass to a wide-open Young for a jumper. It became clear on the court that Young could be a deadly shooter. Off the court, he began to establish himself as an effective leader.
Finally, his senior season arrived. Being the lone returning starter for a team that lost most of it's scoring from the year before, it was finally Frank's turn to be "the man." Through the season's first two games, Young couldn't hit a bull in the backside with a bass fiddle. Not to be deterred, he did what all great shooters do: he kept shooting.
Fast forward a few months and Young has made more three-point shots than any other player in the Big East. He's also showed the ability to come up with a big shot when his team desperately needs it. Against UConn, it was Young's three that did in Jim Calhoun's Huskies. Days later against Villanova, he tied a school record with eight treys in a single game on his way to a career-high 25 points.
"He’s tough," said Nova head coach Jay Wright afterwards. "He’s really developed into a hell of a player. He’s actually hit some big shots against us before, so we weren’t that surprised. He had a good game against us last year and hit some big shots. I like him. I like him a lot."
As the season continued, so did Young's leadership and clutch shooting. With his team trailing Marshall in the first half, "The Tallahassee Kid" decided that he'd seen enough. Frank would go on to match his career high with 25 points as the Mountaineers beat Marshall for the first time in three seasons. Against UCLA, Young tallied 14 points in West Virginia's biggest win of the season. Two weeks ago against Seton Hall, it was Young who again delivered the dagger to the opponent with a big three, and added an emphatic slam down the stretch to put the exclamation point on West Virginia's 20th win of the season.
The 2006-07 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for this team of eight freshmen, four sophomores, two juniors and two seniors. Instead, it's turned out to be a continuation of the success that has become the norm in Morgantown under Beilein. Much of the credit should go to this pair of seniors. Each has made many memorable contributions on the court for the Mountaineers, and have also made their mark by doing many of the "little things" that go unnoticed by just about everyone. Perhaps it won't be until after they have left the Mountaineer program that their importance to the team is truly recognized. Nevertheless, Mountaineer fans everywhere should tip their cap to this dynamic duo as they wind down their careers in Blue and Gold.