CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state of West Virginia is mighty proud of its Mountaineers basketball team which has earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years.
Native son Gale Catlett, a former WVU forward from the Eastern Panhandle town of Hedgesville, has brought the Mountaineers program back to national prominence.
However, the Mountain State has more interest in the NCAA action than just WVU.
Three other West Virginia natives are coaching clubs in the 48-team field -- Dana Kirk of ninth-ranked of Memphis State, Carl Tacy of 19th-ranked Wake Forest and Jimmy Harrick of Pepperdine (Calif.).
Catlett, Kirk, Tacy and Harrick all are in their 40s and all four were born, reared and attended college in West Virginia -- a state best known in basketball for Jerry West. All four coaches fell far short of the stardom attained by the All-America Mountaineer who became a pro great for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Catlett, guiding West Virginia to a 26-3 record and 17th ranking in his fourth year at West's alma mater, was a journeyman 6-5 forward whose career followed West's leading the Mountaineers to the 1959 NCAA finals at Louisville where they lost 71-70 to California.
The Mountaineers play North Carolina A&T, 18-8, in a West Regional first round game at Logan, Utah, Thursday.
Kirk, born in Logan County but an all-round, all-state athlete at Burch High School of Delbarton in Mingo County, coached Memphis State, 23-4, to the Metro Conference season and tournament championship. The husky towhead emerged as more of a football player in college. He played football and basketball two seasons at Morris Harvey (now University of Charleston), but when that school dropped football he transferred to Marshall University so he could continue football.
Tacy, a native of Huttonsville, Randolph County, who coached Marshall to the 1972 NCAA Tournament, has Wake Forest, 20-8, in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years. The all-state basketball player at Tygarts Valley High School was recruited by Press Maravich at Davis & Elkins College but did not play under Maravich at the small college in his home county.
'We're excited about it, and it's a pleasure to be in this,' Tacy said from his Atlantic Coast Conference bailiwick. 'The expanded field has helped the situation considerably.'
Harrick hails from the state capital -- Charleston -- but is lesser known back home than the other three Mountain State coaches who grew up in rural areas. The former Stonewall Jackson and Morris Harvey athlete who first attended two years of college at Marshall sends his third Pepperdine team, 21-6, against Pitt, 20-9, Friday at Pullman, Wash. in a West Region first-round game.
If Wake Forest beats Old Dominion, 18-11, at Charlotte, N.C., in the East Region first round Thursday, Tacy's team would face Kirk's Memphis State club Saturday at Charlotte.
Although the coaches all hail from West Virginia (population 1.8 million) in the same era, their paths have crossed little since their roots are in four widely separated sections.
Harrick and Kirk were on the same basketball squad at Morris Harvey one season -- after Harrick transferred from Marshall to Morris Harvey and before Kirk switched in the opposite direction.
Also, Harrick and Bobby Joe Smith, a WVU assistant coach, played on the same teams at Lincoln Junior High and Stonewall Jackson High School in Charleston.
'Coaching will take you all over,' said Kirk, who has been head coach at Tampa and Virginia Commonwealth and an assistant at Louisville.
Catlett was an assistant at Richmond, Davidson, Kansas State and Kentucky before taking the head post at Cincinnati.
Harrick got married his first summer out of college, got a glass plant job in Charleston and moved to California where he taught junior high four years before becoming an assistant, then head coach at Morningside High School in Ingleside, Calif., where his four teams went 103-16. He gained an assistant's job at Utah State and after four seasons moved to UCLA where he worked under head coach Gary Cunningham two years.
'I paid my dues,' Harrick said. 'I paid my dues.'
Tacy coached at Ferrum (Va.), a junior college, before becoming an assistant at Marshall and leaving there after a 23-4 campaign as head coach.