Beckley – The rims rattled and shook all evening in the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
Sagaba Konate had a lot to do with that.
Konate threw down five monstrous jams Wednesday night, scoring a team-high 22 points as Best Virginia defeated the Southern West Virginia Elite 127-122 in Beckley.
“I don’t know if we’ve got that in the budget to keep up with Sags,” WVU Tech and Best Virginia head coach James Long joked. “If he keeps playing we might have to replace the rims. But he looked good. Everyone’s gotten a lot better. It’s always tough in a situation like this when you’ve got a bunch of guys that have never played together but you know it’s good, all fun for the fans and I’m glad we could all be back together.”
The game was one of two exhibitions Best Virginia, a WVU alumni team, will play before The Basketball Tournament, a 64-team tournament, begins on July 16.
Comprised of memorable WVU alum such as Konate, John Flowers, Kevin Jones, Juwan Staten, the former Mountaineers faced off against some local stars such as Wyoming East graduates Chase Morgan and Taylor, Beckley grads Cam Shannon and current WVU Tech players Luke Vass and Tamon Scruggs.
Joining the Elite was another WVU alum and former Los Angeles Laker Devin Ebanks, who played alongside Jones and Flowers on the 2010 Final Four Team. He stood out, scoring a game-high 26 points in the loss.
“I don’t really know what happened, I just know Devin Ebanks popped up,” Long laughed. “That changed the scouting report from our end a little bit. But it was good. It was good to see all these Mountaineers out here.”
The game itself was competitive for a quarter with the Elite trailing 25-17 after one, but by the time halftime rolled around the size and speed of the Mountaineer alum proved too much. They led 62-34 at the break and only expanded their lead from there.
The only intrigue came when the score was reset with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Following The Basketball Tournament’s rules of the elam ending, the clock was turned off to preserve a more natural ending and eliminate late-game fouling. With that in mind, a point total was set and the first to achieve it won the game. The goal in this instance was 127 points. The Elite, trailing by 52 points had their score adjusted to give them a four-point lead at 119-115.
They pushed the Mountaineers but a late spurt capped by a Nathan Adrian put-back dunk ended the game at 127-122.
In their first game action since 2019, with several new faces and Long, who took over as the coach this year, the experience ran smoothly. Using the exhibition as an opportunity to get a team filled with players who haven’t played together in years, if at all, Long felt good about the end result.
“It went well,” Long said. “We’re figuring things out communication wise. These guys have been overseas playing with language barriers and different coaches who want different things. And then we all have that West Virginia dynamic that we all know, so we’re just trying to figure it out communication wise. We’re picking our moments because these guys are all mega competitors and mega athletes so we’re all just figuring out each other and how we bounce off of each other.”
Aside from getting to coach players he grew up idolizing as well as a few he played with during his time at WVU, Long had the unique experience of coaching against some familiar faces. In the winter he’s usually coaching Scruggs and Vass, and is usually flanked by Pride head coach George Wilmore, but was on the opposite side Wednesday night.
He knew what to expect.
“I know how good of a player Tamon was,” Long said. “I don’t know if they knew coming out but he earned their respect pretty quick and Luke, he’s the best guy in the world. He’s going to be a phenomenal coach one day. I’m glad he got to be a part of it and get out here and play. I just hope they had a great time because they do a lot for us. And George, I told him to take it easy on me. I think he was sandbagging, but it was good to have everybody here.”
Best Virginia will return to action on July 9 when it plays it second exhibition in Wheeling. Afterwards the team will prepare for the West Virginia regional at the Charleston Coliseum which begins on July 17 and ends on July 21.