For college basketball fans, “Senior Night” is one last chance to give the departing upperclassmen a final ‘Thank you’ for their work within the program.
For West Virginia seniors Jaysean Paige, Jonathan Holton and Richard Romeo III, it’s more of a celebration of the men who helped to write the series of chapters that will forever be known as the “Press Virginia” era in Morgantown.
For the coaching staff, it’s a final salute to the fruits of the players’ labor, and that salute ended in a 90-62 win over Texas Tech that was never in doubt after a 15-point lead at halftime.
“It’s kind of sad in a way because those are kids that you know that every day you work so hard with and they work so hard with you as coaches,” said assistant coach Ron Everhart during an interview this week on TribLive Radio. “It’s nice to honor those types of kids that have come here, worked extremely hard, even just for saying ‘Hey, thanks for working so hard on the treadmills every day when you messed up.'”
And with this trio of young men moving on from their days in blue and gold, they depart with three widely-ranging stories.
There’s the story of the redemption of Jonathan Holton, a 6-foot-7 forward who was dismissed from the University of Rhode Island in 2012 after being arrested twice for separate offenses, then played at Palm Beach State College before transferring to West Virginia.
This season he’s tied for fourth on the team in scoring, second in field goal percentage and rebounding, and third in blocked shots, but also has gone the extra mile off the court as well as on.
“The kid has been a model citizen,” Everhart says. “He’s worked really hard and just one of those success stories in college athletics nobody ever really talks about, but it’s really a nice, nice thing.”
For Holton, it’s leaving behind a group of strangers who quickly became a second family to him.
“We all came in here and — to tell you the truth — we were all fighting for a spot,” Holton said. “We didn’t really know each other, but we clicked like that.
“I love those guys like my little brothers. I know I can go to war with each and every one of these guys and they all have my back. We’ve had ups and downs, and we’ve succeeded together and failed together.”
For Paige, it’s finally finding a home after a nomadic journey through the game of basketball that included two high schools and two junior colleges before settling in Morgantown. In his first year the team reached the Sweet Sixteen, and in his final season they have higher goals in mind.
“It means a lot,” Paige said, describing his time at WVU. “Just watching before and seeing (the team) struggle a little bit, and then being able to come in and being a part of something special, I’m thankful and blessed for that, and we’ve still got a lot to go.”
Then there’s the unsung heroes, like Richard Romeo III, a walk-on senior who was serenaded with chants from the student section with as many as nine minutes remaining in the game.
“He’s a kid that every day in practice really works hard,” said Everhart. “He’s a great kid. He’s as important as anyone else. We’re going to miss him, too.”
Soon the coaching staff relented, and Romeo checked in. With a little more than two minutes remaining, Romeo came off a screen by junior forward Devin Williams, took a pass from Tarik Phillip and knocked down a long jumpshot from the left corner.
It was only Romeo’s second basket of the season, but a moment for him and his teammates to savor. Phillip hugged him at the other end of the floor, and the WVU Coliseum roared.
“Devin and Richard are really close,” said head coach Bob Huggins after the game. “You saw Devin running around, trying to get him open, which is kind of neat. Devin’s got two points and he’s running around, trying to get Rich some baskets.”
“I think making the shot was definitely exciting,” Romeo said. “Making my last shot in here, that’s how I’m going to look at it, leaving the Coliseum. But hearing the chants means a lot as well.”
Romeo followed the 2009-10 Mountaineers to the Final Four as a fan, but he was also present to witness the program emerge from a 13-19 record in his freshman year into the nation’s top ten in his senior year.
“Each year we added a piece to the puzzle, and how it correlated and how everything seemed to fall into place is just perfect,” Romeo said about the formation of the current roster. “(Holton) has been here for three years, but he played with us for two. Jaysean has come in the past two seasons and been a great scorer for us. They’ve worked perfectly for our system.”
It is a system that is much more complicated and intricate than the “#PressVirginia” hashtag sensation that has spawned from it. But it has also become the fitting identity of a group who came together as strangers, but are now succeeding as brothers.
And the men leading that group hope to write one last chapter on their way out.