West's rise comes full circle

Terps' prime target today caught Xavier's eye in AAU at Cole Field House

Ncaa Tournament

March 23, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - He's quicker than Tahj Holden and thicker than Ryan Randle, but the Maryland guy that David West most resembles is a head shorter.

Neither Juan Dixon nor West were supposed to make it big in college basketball.

The defending champions are in the house. So is current favorite Kentucky, but Xavier has the most accomplished player here at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. West has already received one National Player of the Year Award, and the 6-foot-9 senior shortened a late Friday night celebration for Gary Williams.

Maryland couldn't bask in the glow of a buzzer-beating victory over UNC-Wilmington for long. After midnight, the Terps' brain trust turned its attention to stopping West.

He's averaging career bests of 20.1 points and 11.9 rebounds, but coming off a subpar performance in the first round, when he didn't like Troy State's zone. Maryland used a 3-2 in its tournament opener, and the reigning NCAA champions will focus their X's and O's on neutralizing a player who was not on the "A" list coming out of high school.

Dixon had few other Division I offers coming out of Calvert Hall, and used his fifth-year maturity to become the MVP of last year's tournament en route to a spot in the Washington Wizards' rotation. West, who nearly turned pro after last season, was held in similarly low regard coming out of Hargrave Military Academy.

A year earlier, the front line at that Virginia prep school included Lonny Baxter. Maryland didn't offer West a scholarship. Neither did Virginia, but a former assistant of Pete Gillen's who succeeded him at Xavier found a prospect who could be a factor in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser was at Xavier then. Where did one of his Musketeers assistants first spot West's potential? At Cole Field House, where West was playing for an AAU team in the Charlie Webber Invitational.

West and Xavier have left large marks on each other. His left bicep is adorned with a large "X" tattoo. Last December, he earned a degree in Communication Arts, one reason West returned for his final college season. How does West feel about being the poster boy for the stay-in-school crowd that bemoans the youth of the NBA?

"What I did was the right thing for David West," he said. "Just being in college has given me the opportunity to develop, enjoy life a little bit, but probably the biggest thing is having a college degree. Not a lot of young black males have that opportunity. I was one of the lucky ones."

Xavier was his fourth address in five seasons, as he spent a year of high school in Teaneck, N.J., the next two in Garner, N.C., and then the one at Hargrave. His transition to the college game was seamless, as West's eighth college game saw him limit Kenyon Martin to 16 points in an upset of bitter crosstown rival Cincinnati.

West won the first of his three A-10 Player of the Year awards as a sophomore. In the past two decades, no one else has won that award more than once. West and Xavier have drawn comparisons to Marcus Camby and Massachusetts, which in 1996 gave the Final Four its only A-10 team. His hands are as big as Elton Brand's. Williams sees his passing ability and 82.2 percent free-throw shooting, and sees another Joe Smith.

It's all done in a low-key manner. South Region survivors move on to San Antonio, and the Spurs are his favorite team because Tim Duncan and David Robinson play an old-school game.

"I'm not into glitz and glamour, that's just not my style," West said. "One of the trainers here tells everyone about the first visit I made [to Xavier]. I had my hat on backward, a head full of hair, my pants hitched down. I had to mature some."

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