Friday, November 02, 2001

West presents a delicate dilemma for XU

Leaving early bolsters one rep, hurts another

        His father and brother have their college degrees. His mother told him, “You're not going to Xavier just to be a basketball player.” So, David West, it's safe to say finishing school is high on your family's list for you?

        “Oh, yeah,” says West, Xavier's junior center and star.

        “So after you're drafted next spring, you will come back and get your degree?”

        (Big laugh.) “Um,” West says. (Bigger laugh.) “I'm not sure that's an accurate statement.”

        When it comes to graduating four-year senior basketball players, Xavier is money: 43-for-43 in the past 15 years. You might go to Victory Parkway to play ball. But you stay four years and you leave with your degree. There is no debate.

        Until now. “I had no idea it was every single player,” West says. That was when he signed to play for the Musketeers. Now, he knows. No one lets him forget.

        West will be at a function when, invariably, someone will put an arm around him and say, “Dave, you'll look great in the NBA after that senior year,” or “Dave, the way we do things here ...”

        West is arguably the best player Xavier has had at this stage of his career. What's not arguable is he's the only Muskie who, after three college seasons, will have a legitimate chance of being drafted in the top half of the first round.

        It forces the question: What happens when West's ambition goes one-on-one with Xavier's image?

        XU fans and alums love to brag on the spotless graduation rate. If their boasting leaves a holier-than-thou taste, so be it. It's an earned holier-than-thou. But if West leaves early ...

        “That's something that's in my head,” West says.

        West is everything Xavier wants from its basketball players: an overachieving player, a decent student, a solid citizen from a good family. You can't picture XU basketball without West in the photo.

        But what if he leaves early? What if he breaks the streak and the faith?

        Those within the basketball program will wish him well. The irony is, to be better, Xavier needs more players with West's options. Fans and alumni will not be so thrilled.

        Says one longtime observer close to the program: “You want to be put in a position where you're starting to have players who can leave early. As long as they come back and get their degrees, there shouldn't be a problem.”

        West is ahead of schedule academically. He figures he'll be just 12 credits short of graduating by the end of this year. He says he's “not really into the big college, partying atmosphere.” But he takes school seriously. “I'm not Shane Battier. But school is not like pulling teeth, either.”

        West says former XU coach Skip Prosser told him Xavier's perfect graduation rate “is a tradition, but everybody's different. Maybe those guys who stayed had to stay.”

        “I'm committed to this university, but I don't think anybody here would be let down,” West says. “I think they'd be happy for me.”

        His new coach, Thad Matta, will make sure West gets the ball more than he did last season, when he averaged 18 points on only 11 shots a game. The rest is up to West. If he plays as he should, leaving early would be a no-brainer.

        At Xavier, it will be anything but.

        E-mail: Past columns at


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