MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Tyrone Sally had a number of reasons to move on from the WVU basketball program after his freshman season. The Mountaineers finished 8-20. Sally’s head coach retired in the middle of the season. And an extensive coaching search happened — twice.
Sally however stuck it out and became the 41st player in the history of the program to reach the 1,000-point plateau.
The Chesterfield, Va. native signed with the Mountaineers and attended the WVU-Richmond NIT first round game in March of 2001. The John Beilein-led Spiders cruised to a 79-56 win. Sally was watching his future head coach go to work against his future team.
“I remember going to that game and I was like, ‘Oh man, am I sure I want to do this?’ But it was crazy. Being a local kid, I knew John Beilein being a great coach. But I just never saw myself going to Richmond,” Sally said. “I could never see myself passing the ball 30 times, waiting until 5 (seconds) before shooting the ball. It was effective but I came from a style of pressing.”
In Sally’s freshman season, the Mountaineers started off well, collecting wins at New Mexico and at Tennessee prior to Christmas. They would win just one game the rest of the season.
“We were on a pretty good roll. We were 7-2 after the New Mexico trip. Then it seemed like there were a lot of chemistry issues. We just couldn’t put it together after that.
“Especially playing in the Big East, your guys have to be on the same page. It just went downhill after that.”
In the middle of a season-ending nine-game losing streak, head coach Gale Catlett retired.
“(Assistant coach) Drew Catlett came back there and said, ‘Guys, take you shower, go home and we will contact you tomorrow’. We found that kind of weird. I get to my room back at the dorm and I look at the TV and I look at the ESPN ticker and it said Gale Catlett retired. I was like this can’t be real.”
The drama was just beginning. On April 9, Dan Dakich was hired as WVU’s new head coach. His tenure lasted six days before he abruptly resigned.
“He set the terms. He was real aggressive and was like this is the way it is going to be and if you don’t like it then hit the road.
“I said a couple ‘French’ words myself. But I was like, I am here. This is where I am at. Who’s next?”
The next man up would promptly lead the resurrection of Mountaineer basketball. John Beilein was hired days later and Sally was re-introduced to the former Richmond head coach.
“After the press conference, he took us all in a back room and introduced himself. He came to me, shook my hand and said, ‘I finally got you Ty’. I couldn’t do anything but laugh at it. But it was a great moment.”
Beilein’s unique offensive system was an significant departure from the norm for the returning Mountaineers.
“The one time I actually did feel like transferring is when we had our one-on-one meeting. He was going on about how I would be a perfect fit and telling me how I could play this position and that. He ended it by saying, ‘We want to play you at the four (power forward)’. I said, ‘The four?’ Yeah, this guy is crazy. He hasn’t seen a Big East game in his life if he thinks I am going to be matched up with (Georgetown’s) Mike Sweetney.
“I didn’t know how complex it was. When you are watching it, you see guys run to a spot, go backdoor and shoot a three. I didn’t know there were 30 options on every play. That took a little getting used to. We adapted and the great thing about it was we were all new to it so we were all learning at once.”
Sally adjusted to and would soon thrive under the Beilein system. He averaged 8.3 points per game in his sophomore season. A year later, he was an every-game starter who averaged 10.2 points per game.
Then in Sally’s senior season (2004-2005), more individual and team success would follow. He led the team in scoring at 12.2 points per game. The Mountaineers jumped out to a 10-0 start with victories over ranked opponents George Washington and North Carolina State. WVU went 18-9 in the regular season and needed a strong run at the Big East Tournament to secure the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in seven seasons. A run to the title game with victories over Providence, Boston College and Villanova took WVU off the bubble and into the ‘Big Dance’.
“It was stressful. You had to tip your hat to our guys. We just kept fighting and fighting and we knew what was at stake. We wanted to make sure it was a guarantee that we would get into the tournament. We scratched and clawed and did everything we could.”
Less than a week later, Sally put an exclamation point on WVU’s 63-61 win over Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. A deflection led to a steal and set up a clinical fast break finish with Sally dunking home 2 of his 12 points in the final seconds.
“It is a drill we do every day in practice that is called ‘perfection’. When we are passing the ball, the ball cannot hit the ground. Things like that helped us in the end and it was a perfect fast break play. You couldn’t draw it up any better than that.”
Wins over Wake Forest and Texas Tech would follow as the Mountaineers advanced to the Elite Eight in Albuquerque, N.M. It appeared that they were well on their way to the Final Four as the Mountaineers jumped out to a huge first half lead against Louisville. The Cardinals rallied to win in overtime, ending Sally’s collegiate career.
“I still think about that game to this day and how we were up eighteen points at one time. It is a situation where we just ran out of gas. For the first ten to fifteen minutes, we couldn’t miss. Pat Beilein pulled up from half court and hit a three. At the time you think everything is rolling. The other foot had to drop sometime.”
Sally would later play nine years professionally all over the world. After starting in the NBA D-League, Sally competed in Belgium, Spain, Korea, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Hong Kong.
“I learned different cultures. But the one big thing I learned is with basketball, it is all played the same.”
Sally just finished his third season as the associate head coach at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va. Fellow former Mountaineer Darryl Prue is the head coach and the team went 16-5 this past season.