Thursday, March 09, 2000

XU's West playing beyond his years




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PHILADELPHIA — Tyrone Hill had a front-row seat. He watched the Atlantic 10 Tournament from just behind the baseline, just after his Philadelphia 76ers had finished a game in an adjoining arena.

        Hill got his first glimpse of David West Wednesday night and decided his place in Xavier history might be in peril.

        “He's a freshman?” Hill said from his courtside seat during Xavier's 75-60 victory over Rhode Island. “He may break some of my records. He may give me a reason to come out of retirement.”

        West is going to make a lot of people rethink their career plans before he's through. The one-time tuba player is 19 years old, with a big man's body and a delicate touch with either hand. He scored a career-high 24 points Wednesday night, grabbed 11 rebounds and bolstered Xavier's tenuous bid for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

        “We knew they were kind of lacking inside,” West said. “and that was one of the things we focused on in practice.”

        West's 11 rebounds Wednesday gave him 271 for the season, surpassing Hill's freshman total of 261. If he can get three more in tonight's A-10 tournament game against St. Bonaventure, West will break Brian Grant's Xavier freshman record. Hill holds the Xavier career record with 1,380 rebounds, and he's already worried about it.

        “He doesn't have anything but upside,” Hill said of West. “I saw him a couple of times when he came up with the rebound and he should have taken it back up (for a shot). But he's very unselfish. He doesn't know how good he can really be. That's scary.”

Poised and polished
        Hill is 10 years removed from Xavier. He has spent the last decade as one of the premier rebounders in the NBA. He knows something about the art of catching caroms.

        West is bulkier, shorter, but cut from the same determined cloth. Asked about Hill's comments Wednesday, the freshman smiled self-consciously.

        “I'm not worried about that rebounding stuff,” West said, “I'm just playing.”

        Hill picked a favorable night for a first impression — Rhode Island finished 5-25 on merit — but West has been Xavier's most reliable player most of the season. He is the Atlantic 10's leading rebounder, the nation's second-ranked freshman rebounder, and the first Xavier player to start the first 30 games of his career.

        West's offensive game is more polished than was Hill's at a comparable point in his career, and significantly more varied. He has the ball-handling ability, the judgment and the pick-setting power to be productive in the high post. (He had three assists and three steals Wednesday night). He has the muscle and the moves to be lethal on the low block. (He had nine offensive rebounds).

        “I knew he was a good player from Day One,” said Xavier senior Darnell Williams. “When we were playing pick-up games, none of our big guys could handle him. And when he gets in position, he wants the ball.”

        What West lacks can be learned. What he knows can't be taught. What he can be three years from now is All-America material. Maybe sooner than that.

        “He's got the heart to do it,” Hill said. “He's already got the confidence.”

Unstoppable inside
        West's confidence could hardly have been higher Wednesday night. He had scored 20 points and grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds when Xavier beat Rhode Island in January, when the Rams still had senior center Luther Clay. With Clay out of action because of an eye injury, West must have looked like Goliath to the Rams Wednesday night. His nine offensive rebounds were more than Rhode Island managed as a team.

        “Their big guys were too much for us,” said Rhode Island coach Jerry DeGregorio. “They killed us inside.”

        To Hill, West looked a lot like himself, only younger.

        “He's a keen judge of talent, that Tyrone Hill,” said Xavier coach Skip Prosser. “He always had a tremendously high opinion of his own.”

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com

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