MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Mountaineer basketball is in James Long’s blood.
He grew up a Mountaineer fan, donned the Flying WV as a player and assistant coach, and now has the opportunity to coach some of those guys he grew up watching inside the WVU Coliseum.
For the second straight year, Long will be the head coach of Best Virginia, the team representing WVU in The Basketball Tournament.
“Kevin [Jones] called me probably a month ago and asked if I wanted to do it again, and obviously, it was a no-brainer,” Long said. “It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I’m from Charleston, so to get back in the Civic Center and be with these guys from West Virginia and the coaching itself was probably the biggest challenge I’ve had in my coaching career, and the most fun I’ve had. Selfishly, I definitely wanted to get back out there and do it again.”
Last season after coaching his first TBT win, Long admitted he had reservations about being new to the profession and coaching a team made up of players from the 2010 Final Four team and overseas pros. After their run came to end, the players praised Long for his worth ethic.
Best Virginia general manager and player John Flowers said continuity is very important to the team’s success.
“Keeping the same coach, keeping the same guys around, that was my vision. We can’t just change up coaches every single year, so it’s great James got to experience it last year and knows what to expect going into the tournament this year,” Flowers said.
He added: “What we love about James is that he is prepared. His preparation for the tournament is top tier. I know for sure we will be prepared. Everybody will have a bedtime, everybody will have a curfew. I have no worries about James’ capability of coaching this team.”
With a year of experience under his belt, Long also feels more comfortable in his abilities. He feels more confident when it comes to schemes, roster management, and everything that comes along with the winner take all tournament.
Well, except for maybe the Elam ending.
“There are some things I would like to do better,” Long said. “This is just a chance to coach and get better and that’s what I am always looking for. I’m having the itch to coach right now that our season is over. When you are in this for the right reasons, you just look for opportunities to grow and get better.”
Under Long’s guidance, Best Virginia finished just shy of a berth in the quarterfinals, losing to Team 23 in last year’s regional final.
“I’ve probably watched the Team 23 game more than any of them because there are things you’d like to go back and do over,” Long said. “I have one year of experience but I don’t think you can ever get enough experience to get confident in the Elam Ending.”
Long wrapped up this third season as the head coach at WVU Tech two months ago. While coaching Best Virginia is the experience he is looking for in his young coaching career, he didn’t make the decision without hesitation.
The West Virginia Regional begins on July 24 and TBT Championship week runs from July 28-August 2. Much like Long winding down his collegiate season, some of the players are doing the same with their professional careers overseas. It’s a big commitment for all involved, but Jones did his job of persuading.
“I say it was a no-brainer when I talked to Kev, but you know, there’s family time in July. If you do go to Dayton, we have our guys coming back around then so it wasn’t a for sure thing, but it was once I got done talking to Kev,” Long said.
Morgantown high school basketball coach Dave Tallman is also making his return as an assistant coach.