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Pittsnogle does Panhandle proud

July 28, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Kevin Pittsnogle has come a long way.

And yet, he still has so much further to go.

He all but admitted that Wednesday in a press conference at the Martinsburg High School media center to announce he had signed a free agent contract to play for the Boston Celtics.

"I knew I would be here eventually," he said while feeling out of place behind the podium. "I'm not there yet. There is still more work to do."

For sure. But Pittsnogle's career move means as much to his hometown and the Eastern Panhandle area as it does to him.

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For both, it is the next chapter in a growing legacy.

For the record, the contract doesn't guarantee that Pittsnogle will be a household name as a pro player this year or any year soon. He has to continue to turn heads, just as he did in his final two seasons at West Virginia University.

That's where the gangly, tattoo-covered country boy became a folk hero - partially because of his look, but more likely for being a 6-foot-11 player with a deadly 3-point shot.

Now, two deep runs into the NCAA Tournament, three All-American mentions and a host of spots in the WVU record books later, Pittsnogle returned to his hometown to enjoy the next big day in his basketball career with the people he knows, loves and respects.

He thanked them for all their support and, later, was asked to think back to the last time he stood in this forum - when he signed to play at WVU.

"This doesn't compare," he said. "I'm signing this one to play for thousands of dollars. The college one I signed to play for free."

When he signed to play for the Mountaineers, he tacked his name on the list of athletic success stories that have left the Panhandle for bigger and better things.

There have been many before him, but the most recent list includes:

Fulton Walker, the Martinsburg and WVU star who went on to play in the NFL. His hallmark claim came when he ran back a kickoff for a touchdown for the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII against the Washington Redskins.

James Jett, the Jefferson High and WVU standout who won a gold medal in the Barcelona Olympics with the record-setting U.S. relay team. Then he played nine years with the L.A./Oakland Raiders.

Vicky Bullett, the Martinsburg and University of Maryland star who won medals while playing for two U.S. Olympic women's basketball teams before playing professionally in Europe and in the fledgling WNBA.

Doug Creek, the Martinsburg star who pitched nine years in the Major Leagues.

Scott Bullet, who played outfield for four years for Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs.

Others have left the area - like Marsalis Basey - to pursue athletic dreams, while others have just departed - like Nate Sowers and Brandon Barrett, who are playing football at WVU - to try their hands at adding to the Panhandle list.

Pittsnogle never considered his impact, but knew he had a shot. You can't teach basketball players to be tall.

But skills are a completely different story.

"I love this. He worked so hard, I'll tell you," said Dave Rogers, Pittsnogle's high school basketball coach at Martinsburg. "There wasn't a day when he was growing up that he didn't have a basketball in his hand.

"He's done a lot of work. He's been blessed with height, but he worked to use it to his advantage."

Rogers reminisced about the time in the mid 1990s, when he could look at Pittsnogle eye to eye. Now, even at 6-3 himself, Rogers has to crane his neck to see under Pittsnogle's chin.

Still, Rogers saw promise early on.

"He started out small. He was only 6-foot-1 before he hit his growth spurt." Rogers said. "He had to be able to handle the ball and shoot from the outside. He learned those skills and then he grew. A lot of big guys have to learn that stuff but Kevin already knew."

Rogers had coached a number of successful Bulldogs, like Basey, Bo Heiden and Richie Sutherland. All excelled for Martinsburg and earned NCAA Division I basketball scholarships.

A pro contract was a first for Rogers. Pittsnogle's big day also had a big effect on Rogers and the town of Martinsburg.

"He's worked so hard," Rogers said with a fatherly grin. "He will represent us well and we're so proud of him."

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