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How did West Liberty get here from there?

Updated: Saturday, March 29 2014, 11:51 AM EDT

By JIM ELLIOTT
WTOV9.com
EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- Years ago, there was a sign on Route 88 near West Liberty that read: End of the earth, 2 miles. West Liberty State College, 4 miles.
While it was a lighthearted ruse likely made by a college student with a little bit of dexterity and a whole lot of time on his hands, it was kind of fitting.
West Liberty State College, frankly, wasnt on the map.
Today, thanks in part to a coach some refer to as a genius and a wildly successful mens basketball program, thats no longer the case.
Jim Crutchfield, who has won a staggering 85 percent of the 320 games has coached at WLU, and his Hilltoppers will face Central Missouri at 3 p.m. at the Ford Center in the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship game.
With that, folks are no longer asking for directions.
I think its made West Liberty University a more recognizable name, Crutchfield said of a four-year run that has seen his program become a fixture in the Elite 8 and beyond and win 20 or more for 10 straight. Sometimes your school can be associated with anything, good or bad. Its been good because wave won. (Saturday), at least 3, pushing up toward 4 million people, are going to see West Liberty University. So our exposure as a college campus is enormous with this.
He's right. Theyve won. A bunch. Still, a national championship had to be unthinkable for Crutchfield when he took over, right?
My thing was, Were going to surprise some people with how good were going to be. But surprising some people at that point in time, and being in the national championship game with four or five conference championships. Thats beyond surprising.
In order to understand how they got here, you must first understand where they came from. Ten years ago, when Crutchfield was hired after a similarly successful stint as a tennis coach at the school, the program was coming off a four-win season and had tattered remains for a roster.
What did Crutchfield do?
Well he went out and recruited the schools all-time leading scorer in Shane Maynard, then accepted a cast-off from Wheeling Jesuit named Dan Binggeli.
He didnt have much, but he had the one thing very few other schools could offer: Playing time.
The difference between Shane and the guys I recruit now, I dont tell kids they can start right away, Crutchfield said. When he walked in, there was no team. Shane looked around and said Im going in, baby. I recruit guys like him now and say its going to be tough to get on the court -- eighth man, maybe redshirt. Shane Maynard and Dan Binggeli are looking around saying, Theres no one. Just walk in, take the ball and start playing games.
That same year, Crutchfield flipped the script on the clubs style of play. Everything everyone ever knew about basketball was thrown out the window. He was under zero pressure to win so he thought it was the perfect time to do it his way.
That club, filled largely by guys no one else wanted, won 20 games.  He continued to do it his way. Twenty victories turned to 30, the record books obliterated in every way imaginable and some that weren't. Basketball with your hair on fire was staying at West Liberty.
And a culture was born. Crutchfield loves that word. In this case, it originated with who else? Maynard.
The first time I ever heard that word used was by Douger Bowden (mens basketball coach at VMI), Crutchfield said. Shane Maynard was down there at Massanutten (Military Academy) as an assistant coach. Douger and I are friends. He said, I was talking to one of your former players, and I asked him, whats the secret up there? How do you keep winning? You guys play so hard all of the time. The answer Shane gave him was, it's the culture of the program. And I thought, I like that. I like that word. I hope thats correct because it makes my job look easier.
If guys like Maynard and Binggeli started it, Alex Falk, the 2013 National Player of the Year, took it to another level.
The guy plays chess at 100mph.
This year, with Alex Falk being gone, it has caused me to do more yelling and screaming to make that culture, Crutchfield said. Alex Falk brought that to the table. (Former Madonna standout) Chris Blair was pretty close. These guys have got to be a little insane. There just playing like crazy. Alex had that. As he was getting ready to graduate, I was thinking I just hope some of this rubs off, lands on these guys that you have to do this to win. Some of it has, but you cant duplicate Alex Falk.
No. And youre not supposed to duplicate trips to the Elite 8 over and over and over again. But Crutchfield doesnt believe much in things that cant be done. He just wins the next game. If he does it today, hell have accomplished the unthinkable and there will be a new sign near Route 88.
National Champions.

 

How did West Liberty get here from there?


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