MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When they were sixth-grade teammates in AAU, James “Beetle” Bolden wouldn’t have guessed he and Lamont West would one day be West Virginia teammates.
Truthfully, Bolden couldn’t have projected West earning a scholarship anywhere.
“I knew him when he wasn’t good at basketball,” Bolden said Thursday inside the Mountaineers’ practice facility.
Thus, Bolden recalled “a shock” upon learning in May that West had committed to WVU.
Bolden, the point guard from Covington, Ky., was preparing to report to Morgantown when West became a late-cycle pledge. Because the two had lost touch for a period—with West transferring to Georgia for his senior high school season—Bolden didn’t realize his childhood friend had undergone such a dramatic transition.
Off to YouTube he went to check out West’s highlights.
“I was surprised,” Bolden admitted. “He got better all around, because back then … oh my God.”
Just a few steps away, the 6-foot-8 West knew that Bolden, now his roommate, wasn’t being disrespectful.
“I used to suck, to be honest. I used to suck real bad,” he said. “Like, I wasn’t good at all. If y’all would’ve seen me back then, y’all would’ve never thought that I would be in this position I’m in right now.”
Despite having a mother who was a four-year starter on some dominant Purdue teams in the early ‘90s, West didn’t care much about basketball until middle school. He described himself as a lanky kid who “missed wide-open layups,” at least until he decided to pursue the sport in earnest.
Only then did his mom, Tonya Kirk, begin pushing him to reach his potential, and pushing him to develop his game.
“It was more of a work ethic thing,” he said. “She said you just can’t go out there and think you’re going to drop 40 on somebody if you don’t train to drop 40.”
Attending Cincinnati’s Withrow High through his junior season, West felt miscast at center. Upon arriving at Miller Grove High in Lithonia, Ga., he shifted to the forward spots and played more fluidly on the perimeter. He also drew the eyes of recruiters, playing for a program that had won six consecutive state titles and playing alongside point guard Alterique Gilbert, a UConn commitment ranked among the Rivals top 40 prospects for 2016.
By last spring he fielded offers from Arkansas, Mississippi State, St. John’s and other programs trying to plug roster vacancies.
“We played a national schedule at Miller Grove,” West said. “It was another level.”
So is college basketball, as the freshmen are learning. The soreness from Andy Kettler’s conditioning regimen and Bob Huggins’ three-hour practices have West trying to cope.
“Pain. A lot of pain. Pain everywhere,” he said, acknowledging at least that having Bolden around “makes the pain enjoyable sometimes.”
For Bolden, it’s a different type of pain, dealing with homesickness for the first time.
“It’s crazy, the college experience, but I’m not used to being away from home like this,” he said. “So I’m still going through it, basically just missing my family.”
But not flooding them with calls.
“No, I just call once a week,” Bolden said, “because if I do that everyday it’s just going to remind me how much I miss them.”