From a West Virginia University men’s basketball walk-on, to the program’s video coordinator, to the head coach of WVU Tech and most recently, the head coach of Best Virginia, the WVU alumni team playing in The Basketball Tournament — it’s been quite the climb for former Mountaineer James Long.
When he was named the head coach of WVU Tech men’s basketball in 2019, ESPN hoops analyst Fran Fraschilla said Long “has all the ingredients to be a successful college head coach” and he has lived up to that statement early on in his career. In two seasons with the Golden Bears, Long led the program to the River States Conference crown and the second round of the NAIA National Championship.
Less than a month after his second collegiate season ended, Long was named the Best Virginia head coach.
“You know, I was worried about James — I was like man are these guys going to listen to him? But I thought they really bought into what he wanted to do,” WVU Hall of Famer Warren Baker said.
A few weeks ago after a win in the opening round of TBT, Long admitted he too 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.
Age didn’t matter one bit to the Best Virginia players. Just like Baker stated, the team bought in and praised Long as their TBT leader.
“James is not the most athletic, not the most skilled, but he came in with a completely different mindset to be able to compete with Division I athletes as a walk-on,” former teammate and Best Virginia guard Tarik Phillip said after the opening round. “His mind, preparation-wise, what we have to do to get ready for games, and just his motivation is good for us. The age has nothing to do with it. His mind for the game is really, really good and his work ethic is even better.”
Baker believes that experience will greatly benefit Long’s future as a head coach.
“I think it gives him confidence, but James has always had a very calm demeanor even when he played,” Baker said. “When he was in the huddle talking to those guys, he had their attention. I think James is going to end up on a big stage at some point in time if he decides he wants to continue coaching. I don’t think he will be at WVU Tech that long with the type of success he is going to have and I look for him to have a very good future as a coach.”