Wednesday, December 15, 1999

Xavier 'hit jackpot' with West

Freshman starter will face UC's Martin

The Cincinnati Enquirer

David West wrestles for a rebound.
(Jeff Swinger photo)

| ZOOM |
        Xavier assistant coach Jeff Battle was watching a game at the Charlie Weber Tournament in College Park, Md., last fall, when he heard the crowd oohing and ahhing over a couple of dunks on the next court over.

        A fan in the stands saw Battle's shirt and said: “Are you from Xavier? You ought to see this kid on the other court.”

        Battle did and was immediately impressed. He checked his program. The player was David West, 6-foot-8, from Hargrave Military Academy.

        That night Battle called Hargrave coach Scott Shepherd, who just happened to have been coached by Skip Prosser in a high school all-star game. “He's wide open,” Shepherd said of West's college plans.

        Battle stayed another day just to watch West. “I couldn't believe a lot of bigger schools weren't recruiting him based on what I saw,” Battle said. “We think we hit the jackpot, not only as a player but as a kid, as well.”

        West made an official recruiting visit to Xavier in February and signed a national letter of intent in the spring. Two recruiting services told the Enquirer then that West was a steal for the Musketeers.

        He has started his first seven games at Xavier and is averaging 9.4 points and 7.4 rebounds.

        West already has battled Eric Chenowith, the 7-1 center from No.8 Kansas. On Saturday night, he will find himself at times going up against Cincinnati's Kenyon Martin, perhaps the best shot blocker and one of the best centers in the country.

        “I'll play against anybody; I don't care,” West said. “That's just fun.”

        “It will be quite an education for the young man,” Prosser said of West. “Those (first-year) guys have no idea what will hit them Saturday night in terms of the aura. I don't know

        if there's any way I can prepare them for that.”

        West and Martin played against each other in some pick-up games at a local high school this fall. The Crosstown Shootout is another matter, always an eye opener for those experiencing it for the first time.

        This is, however, the kind of game that helped attract West to Xavier.

        Florida State wanted him, but football rules in Tallahassee. West was pursued by former XU coach Pete Gillen at Virginia, but he didn't feel comfortable in Charlottesville, Va.

        West picked Xavier because he liked the fast-paced style of play and the program's graduation rate. He also wanted to be at a place where basketball was the No.1 sport and he would have the opportunity to play right away.

        “It's going exactly as planned,” West said. “I'm having my bumps, but ...”

        He's contributing more than expected this soon.

        Part of that is his physical ability. West has huge, soft hands and long arms. He can run the floor and goes after rebounds aggressively.

        Part of it is his attitude. He wants to learn, listens closely to coaches, absorbs and works to get better.

        “He doesn't have a big ego,” said Shepherd, now an assistant to Gillen at Virginia. “He's like a little kid, still trying to figure everything out. If you told him something, he would just go do it and wouldn't mind. He improved more than anybody we ever had (at Hargrave) from Day 1 coming in to when he left.”

        Said Prosser: “Brian Grant ... got better and better every year and always had that willingness to listen. He had a sensational appetite for advice and coaching, and you hope David is the same way. He's a different type of player, but he does remind me a little bit of Brian in that sense.”

        West was not highly recruited coming out of Garner (N.C.) High School. He needed to work on his grades and wanted to raise his profile as a Division I prospect, so he decided to attend Hargrave in Chatham, Va.

        In the fall of 1998, he signed a letter of intent to attend Marshall, but West's father wouldn't sign the form. He wanted his son to continue exploring his options.

        Last December, during a holiday tournament at Fork Union, Va., West made a name for himself.

        “After that, it just went kaboom,” Shepherd said. “Every body and their brother wanted to get in contact with him and have him for a visit.”

        “He went nose to nose with three or four guys that were highly thought of,” said Van Coleman of FutureStars recruiting service. “He not only held his own, but in some cases he outplayed them ... That's why I thought he was a steal for Xavier. He could be one of those Xavier kids who ends up in the pros. He could end up being special for them.”

        Bob Gibbons' All Star Sports is based in Lenoir, N.C., about 200 miles from Garner. He saw West play as a senior in high school and has liked him since. Gibbons thinks the year at Hargrave helped immensely.

        “That was like a freshman year in college, playing against advanced competition,” Gibbons said. “The biggest obstacle for most high school kids is realizing how tough you have to play, how intense you have to be at the college level. David got a good adjustment to that at Hargrave.”


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