Before he ever coached a game in The Basketball Tournament, James Long said he would be better off as a result of the experience.
Long, two seasons into his tenure as men’s basketball head coach at WVU Tech, reiterated that stance after helping guide Best Virginia to two wins in TBT. Although the West Virginia University alumni team bowed out last week with a loss to Team 23, Long was grateful for the opportunity to coach a team full of professional players over three games in five days, along with two weeks worth of practices leading up to the event.
“I’ve always been a prepared person, but I realize that there’s another level to it,” Long said. “When you’re planning a practice, how in depth can you go getting ready for possible questions, getting ready for teaching points to certain people and just thinking ahead? This helped me take my preparation to the next level and also my confidence as a coach.
“How you’re portraying things and how you’re saying things to your team is really important. When you’re a coach and you know you’ve worked hard, you have to go own it when you’re talking to your team and be sure of it, but also be willing to change if a change is necessary.”
Long was in a unique position as Best Virginia’s head coach. A Charleston native, Long worked with a roster full of past teammates during their playing days at WVU: Teyvon Myers, Tarik Phillip, Logan Routt, Chase Harler, Nathan Adrian, Jonathan Holton and Juwan Staten. Another past teammate of Long’s, Sagaba Konate, practiced with Best Virginia and played in both of the team’s exhibitions, but did not play in TBT.
There was also a trio of players — Alex Ruoff, Kevin Jones and John Flowers — that played at WVU before Long arrived on campus, along with former Fairmont States star Jamel Morris, a late addition to Best Virginia.
Long was assisted by former WVU standout Da’Sean Butler, Morgantown High boys coach Dave Tallman and George Wilmore, an assistant at WVU Tech.
“When you’re playing for a million dollars, it says a lot that they would choose us as their coaching staff,” Long said. “It was great for us. It was a lot. Ten days to prepare, guys in and out and then you’re here and have three games in five days, so you just kind of put your head down and work.”
With virtually no film of the opposition to go off of ahead of the TBT opener, coaching staffs and teams alike are somewhat in the dark when it comes to figuring out a specific game plan.
Additionally, Long was responsible for figuring out the team’s rotation and what lineups worked best. With the Elam Ending adding intrigue and strategy to end-of-game situations, another element came into play.
“James knows his Xs and Os and he knows a lot about the game,” Flowers said. “We all told him don’t be afraid to coach us and tell us exactly what we need to hear. It’s a learning process for him as well, but I was impressed with how he handled day-to-day situations. I know I stressed him out a lot as general manager, so I’m impressed.”
Long has enjoyed success in his first two seasons with the Golden Bears, who are 36-15 under his watch. WVU Tech qualified for the 2020 NAIA National Tournament before the pandemic canceled it. The Golden Bears did so again in 2021, in addition to winning the River States Conference Championship.
Long came to WVU Tech after two seasons as West Virginia’s assistant director of basketball operations and video coordinator, which followed his playing days as a Mountaineer after transferring from Wofford.
“James is not the most athletic, not the most skilled, but he came in with a different mindset to be able to compete with Division I athletes as a walk-on,” Phillip said. “His mind and prep wise what we have to do for games, is really good. Age has nothing to do with it. His work ethic is even better.”
Perhaps Long returns next year to guide Best Virginia in TBT, though commitments from coaches and players far in advance of the event are rare.
For now, he’s plenty thankful for what his first TBT experience brought.
“You’re lucky a lot of times if you see one or two teammates in a summer and we got to see each other all again and compete together in Charleston with phenomenal Mountaineer fans,” Long said. “Regardless of (the ending), it doesn’t take away from how special this experience was.”