First game at the Coliseum was nearly 50 years ago
MORGANTOWN — It was nearly 50 years ago that West Virginia University basketball moved away from the banks of the Monongahela River and climbed a hill to begin playing its home games at the Coliseum. From a 6,000-seat gym that was at times like playing inside a tornado for opposing teams to a 14,000 seat arena whose ceiling seemed to stretch stories high to its concrete roof.
Early in Dec. 1970, the Mountaineers rolled out the carpet and tumbled out of the new dressing room to play the first ever-game in the just christened Coliseum.
Jerry West was long gone to Los Angeles, Hot Rod Hundley was already in the broadcast booth out west and legendary coach Fred Schaus was leading his latest team elsewhere.
Sonny Moran was the coach. Moran had three players from Charleston High School in Larry Harris, Levi Phillips and Curtis Price. The other in-state player was Mark Dawson from Huntington.
Wil Robinson, who would average 25 points a game, came from nearby Uniontown, Pa. and other players not too far from Morgantown were Dave Werthman from Pittsburgh, Dick Symons from Toronto, Ohio and Skip Kintz from Allentown, Pa. Sam Oglesby was living in Columbia, SC and seven-foot Mike Heitz was from Garrett, IN.
Comparing the Coliseum with the cozy confines of the Field House down by the river was like comparing LeBron James with 5-foot-3 Muggsy Bogues.
The Field House had a number of roll-out bleachers, and nearly all the seats were close enough to the playing court to hear the athlete’s deep breathing and smell the sweat-stained uniforms. Seats at the Coliseum featured chair backs, ample leg room and views unfettered by steel support beams like the Field House showed.
In contrast with this season’s Mountaineer roster that lists three players from West Virginia (Chase Harler from Moundsville, Brandon Knapper from South Charleston and Logan Routt from Cameron) there are many others from all over the basketball-playing map.
Jermaine Haley comes from Vancouver, British Columbia, Oscar Tshiebwe is from The Congo in Africa, Jordan McCabe is from Kaukauna, WI and Emmitt Matthews is from Tacoma, WA. Then there’s Derek Culver from Youngstown, OH, Miles McBride from Cincinnati, Sean McNeil from Union, KY and Taz Sherman is in Morgantown from Missouri City, Texas.
The Coliseum has seen West Virginia University teams win 549 times and lose 159 games (a .776 winning percentage) going into this season.
The 1981-82 season saw those Mountaineers turn in a spotless 15-0 record in games played at the Coliseum. There were six teams that lost only once there, the latest being the 2006-07 team that was 17-1 after rolling out the carpet and being greeted by the hard-rooting student body.
Moran’s 1970-71 edition went 13-12 overall those 50 years ago. Soon enough he was removed as the WVU coach.
Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley didn’t play in the Coliseum, but both have statues outside on walkways leading to the building. And both have larger-than-life photos on the inside — commemorating the Golden Era of WVU basketball.