Thursday, December 13, 2001

SULLIVAN: A game only a mother could dread

XU vs UC

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Harriett West can't stand the strain. When a game gets too close, she gets too nervous.

        She can't bear to watch her son, David, play basketball under pressure. She won't be attending Friday's Crosstown Shootout because she will be attending a funeral, but she has been known to skip out on much flimsier excuses.

        Should the score get too tight late in the game, she'll deliberately distance herself from the nearest television.

        “I can watch it if they're 10 points ahead,” she said. “But if it's seven or eight points, I become very, very nervous. If I'm at the game, I'll go in the ladies room and I'll pray: "Lord, take the pressure off of him.'”

        Most nights, David West does not require divine intervention. Xavier's junior forward averages 22 points a game despite defenses designed primarily to thwart him. He thrives under the same pressures that sends his mom to the powder room.

        "Ice water in your veins'

        “I feel that's the best part of the game,” he said. “One of my coaches, when I was young, used to say it was like having ice water in your veins. The last few minutes, your blood turns red.”

        Among the things that separate elite athletes from their flummoxed fans is the ability to perform when others panic. It's not the ice water in their veins so much as the cool acquired from a thousand similar experiences and the confidence accrued from successful competition.

        Amos West said his wife has been walking out on her son's games since he was 8 or 9 years old. Asked for a notable example, David West cited the conference championship game his senior year at Garner (N.C.) High School.

        With his Trojans trailing Cary High by three points late in the game, West noticed his mother waving goodbye during a timeout. Garner then closed the gap to one point with two free throws. Harriett West left her seat just in time to miss her son's game-winning dunk.

        “When a game is tight like that, I know it's a lot of pressure on him to play,” she said. “When I leave, it's not that I think something will go wrong. It's that they double-team and triple-team him. As his mom, I don't like to see that.”

        Best under pressure

        David West has grown accustomed to his fate. He understands that defenses deployed to stop him create openings for his teammates. He still gets his points. He still gets his rebounds. West's mom ought to understand that her son is big enough to take care of himself now. She should save her concern for the poor guys who have to guard him.

        Harriett West might better cope with her son's competition if she had athletic experiences of her own. But though she grew to be 6feet tall, she was born a generation too soon and a step too slow to avail herself of widespread athletic opportunities for women.

        “The funny thing is I'm at my best when I'm under pressure to do things,” Harriett West said. “If you want me to do something, you can't tell me two weeks ahead of time. You have to tell me the night before.”

        On the night before the Crosstown Shootout, our only request of Harriett West is to relax.

        It's just a game, right?

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456; fax: 768-8550; e-mail:


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