Note: This article originally appeared in the Mirror on Monday, Feb. 25, 1985
By Neil Rudel (Games People Play)
In what was possibly the greatest game ever played at the Altoona High School fieldhouse, two things were fitting.
The game was played by what could well become the greatest team in the school’s history; and it was decided by possibly the greatest player ever to play for Altoona.
Altoona Coach Larry Betar would prefer not to saddle Doug West with that albatross — not yet, anyway — as this marvelous team rolls into the PIAA playoffs with a full head of steam.
“I would like to reserve comment on that for now,’’ Betar said after West’s clutch 20-foot jumper and 19 points were the difference as Altoona solidly justified every ranking bestowed upon it this season with a thrilling 44-43 double-overtime victory Saturday night over an outstanding St. John’s (D.C.) team.
“To me, Doug West is a premier player,’’ St. John’s Coach Joe Gallagher said. “He can do it.’’
Altoona’s rich tradition has seen numerous head-of-the-class players over the years.
Bill Moore was a one-man wrecking crew inside; he went to St. Bonaventure. Johnny Moore, Bill’s younger brother, was frail in high school but his budding talent took him to the University of Texas, and then to stardom with the NBA San Antonio Spurs. Dick Johnston, who went to Tennessee, was considered perhaps Altoona’s best shooting guard. Post players Pat Nagle and Lou Schmitt dominated during their respective eras.
But perhaps no one combined the versatility and awesomeness of the 6-foot-6 West, who does everything but sell popcorn.
“You really don’t replace a Doug West,’’ Betar said. “You hope to get someone to fill his shoes, but you’re never going to replace Doug West.’’
It is more than the feathery jump shots or whirlybird drives or crowd-pleasing dunks that endears West, a three-year starter and Altoona’s third-leading scorer, to Betar.
“He’s an All-American,’’ Betar said. “He could be moody at times or he could do this or that. But he doesn’t. He comes to play, he listens, he works with the coaching staff. I’ve never had a problem with him being coachable. Those are intangibles that mean so much to me.
“Good things happen to good kids and that (game-winning shot) was the result tonight.’’
There are great players and then there are great players who also thrive in the clutch. Saturday night West not only hit the winning shot, but a 20-footer with 30 seconds left to force the first overtime. Last year he almost single-handedly kept Altoona in the western semifinal against Meadville; in the western quarterfinal, his 15-foot jumper with time running out sent the game into overtime against Punxsutawney.
“He wants the ball in tough situations,’’ Betar said.
West will take his talents to Villanova and the Big East next season. He has confided in the past that he would someday like to join Moore in the NBA, but for now, he begs off questions about his future, particularly what goals he will set for his freshman season.
“Wait until after the season,’’ he said. “I’ve been watching them a lot on TV. I’m trying to see how Coach (Rollie) Mass (Massimino) runs his team.’’
In Altoona’s season of seasons, there’s little question that Doug West has been the leader of leaders. And while he has been showered with inevitable individual attention, he has remained humble and team-oriented.
“I feel fine with my year,’’ he said. “I think we’re playing good as a team. Tonight was a real big win.’’
Tuesday night marks the final home game in the Altoona fieldhouse. Certainly seniors Bob Fitzgerald and injured Tom Hite have made their contributions; Scott Colombo, Todd Little and Craig Hatfield have been valuable role players; Bob Bradfield and Craig Curry have enjoyed outstanding careers. All should be saluted warmly.
But when Doug West is introduced, Altoona fans should realize they may never see another high school player around here quite like him.